With as dazzling a breakthrough display as any British Paralympic sprinter has conjured, Thomas Young left even his rivals scrambling helplessly for answers.
China’s Zhu Dening, the pre-race favourite in a stacked field for the T38 100 metres final, kept shaking his head. This was not just Young’s maiden global gold, but the first occasion the 21-year-old had broken the 11-second barrier, in a European record time. Better still, he combined the audacity of youth with an ambition to achieve a Usain Bolt-like level of supremacy in his category.
“I want to be a dominant force in this sport,” Young said, after holding off Zhu, his conqueror at the 2019 world championships, in 10.94sec. “I know that Paris is next for the Paralympics, but I’m already thinking as far ahead as Brisbane 2032 – that’s the long-term aim.
“Every kid growing up in this sport was inspired by Bolt. He won three golds and I would like that, too. Next year, I want the European, Commonwealth and world titles, so that I hold all four.”
While his grand vision was laudable, Young deserved to savour this performance on its own merits. Having harboured restless hopes of becoming a sprinter since early childhood, he only discovered that he was eligible for para-athletics when he was 17. Four years on, he bestrides the T38 class, designed for athletes with cerebral palsy or similar neurological conditions.
Young was diagnosed at the age of 12 with neurofibromatosis type one, a multisystem genetic disorder in which tumours, usually non-cancerous, develop along the nerves. In his case, these affect balance and coordination. But this was one run characterised only by its poise, as he overcame a nervous start to pull clear and fend off the surging Zhu.
“Seeing him dig deep like that, getting to the line in front, I’m very, very proud of him,” his father Rob, speaking from the family’s Loughborough home, told Channel Four. “Two weeks before Thomas left, he actually said, ‘The gold medal is mine.’ I must admit that my palms have been sweating, but I’ve always believed in him.”
“It’s sad we can’t be there,” acknowledged mother Bridie. “He never lost his goal, though, even when the Paralympics were postponed for a year.”
Theirs was a happiness eclipsed only by their son’s. He found himself denied by Zhu in a photo finish at the worlds in Dubai, and could not help but revel in the sense of payback.
“This is so special after the heartbreak of what happened,” he said. “I knew there was work to do, and I worked so hard throughout the pandemic to get it right. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
On a memorable night for the British team, the country toasted two golds at Tokyo’s National Stadium in 26 minutes, as Sophie Hahn successfully defended her T38 100m title, finishing just five hundredths outside the world record she had equalled in qualifying. In recent years, the women’s event has been awash with intrigue, not least during a poisonous row stoked by the father of Hahn’s British team-mate, Olivia Breen, who has persistently argued that she is in the wrong classification for her disability.
This was before Breen’s anger at being informed by an official at last month’s English Championships that her sprint briefs were “too short and inappropriate”. Through it all, the one constant has been the invincibility of Hahn. Here she sustained her extraordinary record of winning every major final for seven years, although she has never been pushed harder, edging out Colombia’s Darian Jimenez Sanchez with a dip for the line.
“That was more pressure than I’ve ever felt before,” said Hahn, 24, who admitted that she had been “spurred on” by seeing Young deliver Britain’s first track triumph of these Games. “The build-up was tough, with all the expectation, but I tried to stay calm and focused.
“I turned off my social media a week ago to keep my head clear. Darian was hot on my heels, and I really thought it would be decided by a photo, but to see my name was incredible.”
Hahn, who has cerebral palsy, has been limited throughout her life by the races she can choose. During the stand-off with Michael Breen, who went to a parliamentary committee to cast doubt on her eligibility for the T38 category, her father David explained: “All Sophie can do is run in a straight line. She can’t run the 400m, because her muscles won’t allow her to. She can’t throw or do the long jump like others in her class can.”
Since 2014, Hahn has drawn the maximum from her talents over 100m. So, in the T64 long jump, has Britain’s Stef Reid, who arrived in Tokyo optimistic about improving on her two silvers in London and Rio.
But the New Zealand-born athlete, who lost her right foot in a boating accident when she was 16, and whose life was saved by a Toronto surgeon stemming the blood loss through amputation, fell short of the podium due to the brilliance of Holland’s Fleur Jong.
Despite a season’s best for Reid of 5.75m, a world-record 6.16 by the Dutchwoman proved unassailable. “Coming fourth is bittersweet,” she said. “It has been a long time since I have competed at a meeting of this calibre. For two women to jump over six metres is huge. The standard keeps rising.”
Reid is a remarkable figure, who at 36 operates under multiple guises as an actress, model, Masterchef finalist, biochemistry graduate and author of her own TED talk. But for once, she had to cede the stage to the younger generation.
“It’s exciting watching all these athletes coming up,” she smiled. None sent such a charge of electricity through these Paralympics as Young, whose impact echoed the raw drama of Jonnie Peacock’s gold at London 2012. As a sprinter who can back up his references to Bolt, he gives every sense that his overnight stardom is here to stay.
Golden double for Summers-Newton but Simmonds future unclear
By Gareth A Davies in Tokyo
Maisie Summers-Newton claimed her second gold of the Paralympic Games in the women’s SB6 100 metres breaststroke, again dominating her idol Ellie Simmonds, who finished fourth.
It does not take long, in some events, for the elite to be eclipsed in Paralympic sports. The gap of five years, let alone four, can change so much and bring a raft of new, dominating names. Summers-Newton, 19, from Northamptonshire, posted a Paralympic record of 1min :32.:34sec to take the title with China’s Liu Daomin winning silver and America’s Sophie Herzog bronze. Swimming icon Simmonds, who was born with achondroplasia, missed a place on the podium by 7.6 seconds.
Clearly disappointed, the 26-year-old skipped mixed zone duties, which is a rule for competitors after finishing. Simmonds had finished fifth behind the rising star when the teenager won gold in the 200m individual medley, setting a new world record of 2:56.68, and they are set to compete together again in the S6 400m freestyle on Thursday.
It remains unclear whether the five-time Paralympic gold medallist, on her fourth Games, will continue her Paralympic career beyond Tokyo.
Simmonds became an instant star as the youngest member of the GB team in Beijing, in 2008, aged 13, where the teenager claimed two gold medals. But for now there is silence from her.
Summers-Newton led from the start and never let up, but explained: “The last 25 is definitely the most important because you just want to touch the wall first. I kept looking out the side of my goggles and just thinking, ‘Please don’t catch up to me!’ But when I saw how close I was to the wall I just gritted my teeth and tried to get there first and it obviously worked.
“I’d hoped for the first one in the IM but to get two – it’s just what dreams are made of isn’t it really? Just incredible obviously – I have no words. I don’t think this one has sunk in as much as the medley, because I really really wanted it, so this one is just the icing on the cake definitely.”
The 19-year-old admitted to nerves before both the races. “Nerves were pretty high before the IM, as I didn’t really know what to expect, but after that, I’ve just been on such a high. Sleep’s been pretty difficult, but I’ve tried to get as much as I can. Tonight I was just so excited and ready to race off the back of what happened in the medley. I just really wanted to enjoy it too, because I had no pressure on me for these two so I think that definitely helped.”
Simmonds had come into this event having revealed that she had struggled with “pressure and panic attacks” in races ahead of Tokyo 2020. After reaching the 100m breaststroke final, the Briton reportedly said she had “finally conquered” her demons. “I just wanted to go out and absolutely smash it,” Simmonds had said.
Asked if everything was well with her icon, Summers-Newton said: “Oh yeah she’s fine. I think Ellie’s here – I don’t want to speak on behalf of her – but I think obviously she’s here for her fourth games just to really enjoy it and just to be with the team, I think that’s what everyone aims for.”
She was such an icon for para swimming since her first Games in 2008 and then obviously the incredible things she did in 2012. She’s inspired people like me and I’m sure all the other athletes here.
“At the start, it was a bit difficult, because being with such an amazing athlete like her I was star struck but I’ve raced with her loads of times now. She’s definitely such an amazing friend and again an amazing athlete so it was just incredible to race against her every time.”
Does Simmonds have a tough decision to make after the Games? “It’s completely up to her and I don’t want to say anything on her behalf. She’s an incredible athlete, that’s all I’d say,” responded Britain’s double champion. It was her night. And it has been her Games, with a treble a real prospect on Thursday.
In the last event of the day, Britain won gold with a world record in the mixed 4 x 100m S14 relay, through Reece Dunn, Bethany Firth, Jessica-Jane Applegate and Jordan Catchpole. By the third 100 metres GB were three seconds behind leaders Australia, but Applegate made up a lot of time to put the team in a good position heading into the final 100m. The final 100m was superb from Catchpole to race home to secure claim the gold medal.
History for GB wheelchair rugby players – but golden shot still awaits
By Molly McElwee in Tokyo
Great Britain guaranteed its first ever medal in wheelchair rugby by upsetting hosts and reigning world champions Japan to reach the gold medal match.
For the last two Paralympic cycles Great Britain have placed fifth, and the closest they have ever come to a medal was fourth in 2004 and 2008, so progressing to the final marked a significant milestone for the sport. Jim Roberts was topscorer with a massive 20 tries, in a match that was swung by a dominant third quarter for the British team.
The teams were separated by just two points at half time, but the Britons came out with determination after the break. They took advantage of Japan’s fouling, awarded a penalty try for Yukinobu Ike’s flagrant foul, and extended their lead to nine points with just one period remaining.
They were in control from that point on, closing it out, 55-49. “We’ve deserved this,” Great Britain’s Ryan Cowling said. “We’ve worked so hard and we’ve come so close, so often. This is redemption for the GB wheelchair rugby team. We seem very together. It may have not been like that in the past but this time… We pulled it out the bag and, commiserations to Japan, but we were the better team on the day.”
They face Rio 2016 silver medallists the United States in a battle for the gold medal on Sunday at 10am BST.
Emotions on full display again as Bayley reaches table tennis final
Reigning Paralympic champion Will Bayley booted an advertising board with joy after progressing to the gold medal match of the class seven table tennis with a nail-biting win in Tokyo.
Kent-born Bailey was forced to save a match point as he survived a stunning comeback from China’s Liao Keli in an enthralling semi-final, where the momentum shifted throughout.
He was in a commanding position at 2-0 and eventually prevailed 3-2, edging the deciding game 12-10 before deliriously kicking his way out of the arena, for which he indifferently accepted a yellow card.
The 33-year-old, who worked his way back from a serious knee injury suffered on Strictly Come Dancing in 2019 to be at the Games, will face another Chinese player, Yan Shuo, in Sunday’s final – his third in succession at the Paralympics – hoping for a repeat of his triumph in Rio.
Elsewhere in Japan on Saturday, Bailey’s team-mate Paul Karabardak lost his class six semi-final to American Ian Seidenfeld 3-0 but collected still his first Paralympic medal at the fourth time of asking with bronze while Jack Hunter-Spivey also picked up a medal of the same colour.
Yule credits ‘genius’ coaching staff for powerlifting bronze
By Molly McElwee in Tokyo
Micky Yule said it was brains as much as brawn that made the difference as he clinched a brilliant Paralympic bronze medal in Tokyo on Saturday.
Yule, 42, lost both his legs after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan in 2010, and, as a former Invictus Games champion, is friends with Prince Harry. In Tokyo he was was competing in the -72kg category, and insisted the mind games he and his team employed fended off the competition, winning his first Paralympic medal with a 182kg lift.
“We played a dangerous game of poker and we won and you know what – we never even had anything in our hand,” laughed a delighted Yule.
“It just means everything and it seems like a bit of a dream at the moment because I wasn’t the strongest today but I had the best coaching staff. We had a plan and we made everybody lift – the pressure built and built and built on them.”
“It was tactically genius today by our coaches. I wanted to go heavier. As an athlete you always do. They kept me focused, get your lifts, get your number on the board and we will see them and beat them that way.
“I was hitting my lifts and they were missing and we got there in the end. It just shows that you don’t always have to be the fastest or the strongest if you’re the smartest.”
He finished behind Mahmoud Attia of Egypt, and world record holder Bonnie Bunyau Gustin of Malaysia, who lifted 228kg – almost 30kg more than anyone and more than three times his own weight. Yule’s result was a marked improvement on his sixth place in Rio, but one he worried would not happen when he caught Covid last December.
“It got right in the way of my training. I had to do a return to training protocol, which was just setting me back.
“But I certainly don’t need anybody to gee me up or kick me up the bum. The minute I got unleashed from that protocol, I was on it. I had to qualify.
“I just qualified in eighth as I was running out of time. I knew if I could qualify I would come here and I would get the job done.”
He said this success was something he never could have imagined after his injury 11 years ago. “We can get through dark places and come out of the other end stronger and as better people,” he said.
“I don’t doubt myself in any situation. Sometimes when the chips are at our lowest I will perform and I felt I did that today.”