Thursday, June 18, 2009

GB stars shine at World Cup

New world records and some stellar British performances ensured that the 2009 BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester was a successful first step on the road to London 2012.

Six days of competition across four sports - cycling, wheelchair basketball, athletics and swimming - saw some keenly-contested competition and cemented GB's place as one of the leaders in Paralympic sport.

It was the first major disability sport event since Beijing and crowds came out in greater numbers than previous years to hail their Paralympic heroes.

Once again, many of the British big guns delivered on the big stage.

Jody Cundy became the fastest paracyclist of all-time, breaking the 11-second barrier to set a new world record of 10.998 seconds in the flying 200m time trial.

Jody Cundy
Cundy previously won gold in the team sprint at 2008's Paralympics

It was just one of the many British highlights in the velodrome as the team continued the run of success they enjoyed in Beijing.

While the likes of Darren Kennyand Sarah Storey dominated their events, the tandem events which pair blind or visually-impaired riders with a sighted pilot proved intriguing.

New pairing Simon Jackson andBarney Storey held off the challenge of tandem debutants Neil Fachie (a former sprinter) andDavid Readle in the men's races while in the women's tandem there was also a winning debut for Aileen McGlynn and her new pilot Vicky Begg.

In addition, Olympic gold medallist Jason Queally teamed up for the first time competitively with double Paralympic gold medallistAnthony Kappes with the pair setting a new British open tandem record for the kilo.

Although both the men's and women's basketball teams failed to reach their finals, there were plenty of positives for coaches Murray Treseder and Garry Peel to take out of the event.

The men's team were without three of their key players and the new-look side lost narrowly in their pool games and semi-final but put in their best performance in the bronze medal play-off to easily beat Germany.

The women's team failed to win a game but with five teenagers in the squad, one of whom, Maddie Thompson, is only 14, the future looks bright for them if they can continue to develop together.

The athletics competition was the first chance for new Paralympic head coach Peter Eriksson to assess the squad at his disposal and the Sunday sunshine in Manchester attracted a bigger crowd than normal to the Regional Arena.

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius
Pistorius notched wins in the T44 100m and 400m

South African blade runner Oscar Pistorius stole many of the headlines on his return from a serious boating accident.

But there were still strong performances from double Paralympic gold medallist Dave Weir and sprinters Ben Rushgrove, Katrina Hart andLibby Clegg.

"I'm really enthusiastic about Peter and his ideas and he comes in with a huge amount of ambition," said Tanni Grey Thompson, who was part of the BBC team in Manchester.

"Peter has brought a level of authority to the programme which can only be good and has got a clear view of where disability athletics should be.

"I'm excited about athletics in a way I haven't been for a long time because I can see changes are happening.

"I want Britain to top the athletics medal table and to win more golds than the other sports and I also want the athletes to be the best they can be and have every opportunity to do that."

In the Manchester Aquatics Centre, the GB team dominated the swimming events with a world record for 14-year-old double Paralympic gold medallist Ellie Simmonds.


The Swansea-based pocket rocket had a broad smile on her face after breaking the 100m freestyle record by well over a second and coolly coped with all of the media attention while her contemporaries are struggling with their school books.

"I get stopped on the street more now than I did when I was competing and so many people ask me if I know Ellie," said Grey Thompson

"She is just nowhere near her potential and it is nice for a female athlete to have the profile she does and she is so nice and vibrant."

London 2012 is still 1,190 days away but for all of the competitors in Manchester it remains the ambition and events like the Paralympic World Cup give them the important top-level competition which elite athletes crave.

The British team are showing that their plans are moving in a positive direction but they know that the greater challenges lie ahead.

David Weir

Highlights - Weir takes 1500m gold

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