David Weir claims Britain is being left behind in Paralympic sport’s technological arms race, lamenting how a lack of investment had saddled him with a wheelchair 10 years out of date. Highlighting the advantage of his arch-nemesis on the track, Switzerland’s Marcel Hug, whose chair is refined by the Alfa Romeo Formula One team, the six-time gold medallist is calling for UK Sport to direct more money into equipment for para-athletes if Britain is not to be cast adrift by rival nations.
“We have had no investment in the technology side of the chairs since 2011,” said Weir, 42, who announced he would be retiring from the track after these Tokyo Games. “That is 10 years. I still have the frame, but it needs updating. I have spoken to UK Sport about it and would love to work with them to build the perfect racing chair, but that is up to them. They have the money.”
Weir, who only qualified as fastest loser for today’s final of the T54 1,500 metres, an event he won at London 2012, indicated his struggles were not solely the consequence of his advancing years. Referring to Hug, who at 36 has come to dominate the distances that were once the Briton’s domain, he said: “Marcel has a technical advantage now. He has a brand-new chair that is out of this world – that is what we are lacking. We are back 10 years and need to catch up with the rest of the teams. I am still in an aluminium chair, and these guys are pushing carbon-fibre chairs.
“Marcel has had the Sauber F1 team [now Alfa Romeo, after a 2019 buyout] working on it, and the Swiss Paralympic team. They have made a chair that suits him. It is aerodynamic, it is stiff, and he has different tyres on it that roll better than ours. He is using bike wheels that have been slightly adapted, and he is going to have an advantage because of that. His power-to-weight ratio on that chair, I have never seen anything that quick before.”
Weir found himself eclipsed by almost two seconds in his 1,500m heat by Hug, who has already taken gold over 5,000m. “I don’t want to say it is all down to the chair, because it is down to the person, too,” he said. “But you need extra help to get to the next level. Other countries have gone away from us. We have a big history, and I want the next generation to fill my boots. They are going well, but you can see that the technology is improving the other athletes.”
Where Hug also wears an optimised race suit, with separate fabrics chosen for different areas of the body, Weir explained that he had felt stifled by the outfit chosen for him. “I am not even wearing a suit this time, because it didn’t feel right for me. I like to feel comfortable and I felt quite hot in it. That is my preference. I would love to have a conversation with UK Sport about this, too, because this will probably be my last Paralympics.”
Weir confirmed here that his sixth Games would mark his farewell appearance on track. After a career marked by 20 global medals and almost as many outbursts when races have not fallen in his favour, he insisted it was the right time to step away from an arena that has brought him five Paralympic golds, in addition to his 2012 marathon title.
“For track, this is my last,” said Weir, who suggested he was mellowing in his competitive dotage, after his poor Paralympics in 2016 sparked a period of bitter recrimination. “I want to finish on my terms, and I feel like I was forced to finish in Rio. I was bitter and angry for a long time, but now I am calmer. It is funny, because a lot of young athletes are saying, ‘Dave spoke to me this morning,’ or ‘Dave is really happy.’ I don’t think I have changed, but people say I seem much happier and relaxed around others and not as tense.” Technology, it appears, is the one battle he is still committed to fighting.
Lee Pearson heads another successful day for ParalympicsGB
By Gareth A Davies
For Sir Lee Pearson it was a routine, set to Kung Fu Panda, which won the exquisite horseman a remarkable 14th Paralympic gold medal here.
The mantra from the Kung Fu Panda, of course, is “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift.” So inspired has Pearson been at these Games, both mounted on Breezer and speaking publicly, that the 47-year-old Paralympic equestrian legend, one of the first prominent British sportspeople to be openly gay, might have said it himself.
“Amazing, amazing,” said Pearson, whose triumph earned him a third gold medal of these Games, to go with the individual test and the team event and, for a few hours at least, brought the legendary rider within one gold of Dame Sarah Storey as the third-most successful British Paralympian of all time, his feats spanning six consecutive Games. “I can’t help being disabled, and Breezer can’t help being ultra-sensitive, but I am so proud of him and what he has achieved here, he was like a baby lion in that arena,” Pearson said.
On the final night of equestrian competition, Great Britain took their medal count to eight – three of them gold, three silver, and two bronze – through the quartet of Pearson, Georgia Wilson, Natasha Baker and Sophie Wells.
Pearson was joined on the podium by 25-year-old Games debutant Wilson, who claimed a second bronze medal in the individual freestyle test grade two to match her third place from the individual test last week.
Pearson produced a score of 82.447 per cent to beat long-time rival Pepo Puch, of Austria, to the top prize by 1.440 per cent. “I didn’t care if I medalled, that horse gave me his heart in there,” Pearson said. “I held his hand, he held mine – he allowed me to ride him and I am unbelievably proud of him
“He was nervous in there, we had a tiny little spook before I entered and I said, ‘Daddy’s here, come on, we can do this.’
“Deep down, I believed we’d leave the arena retired. I truly believed that. But a little bit deeper down, I just thought he has brilliant power and if I don’t muck up, he had a chance.
“He pulled out eight per cent better than he’s ever done and what a time to do it.”
On his elevation to the third-most successful gold medallist of all time, behind retired swimmer Mike Kenny (16) and cyclist Storey, who aimed to equal that feat in the early hours of this morning in the women’s C5 time trial, Pearson added: “I don’t do this to out-medal Sarah, she’s a phenomenal athlete and I’m proud of her,.
“I just keep loving horses. That drags you through the snowy days, the bad days when the horse doesn’t communicate with you. That’s why I’m here.”
Earlier, Baker and 10-year-old Lottie cantered to a grade-three silver, her second individual medal in Tokyo.
Andrew Small powers to victory in men’s T33 100m final.
Wheelchair racer Andrew Small grabbed Paralympic gold for Great Britain after blitzing his rivals in the men’s T33 100m final.
Small powered to victory in a time of 17.73 seconds on day six of the Games after flying out of the blocks at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
The blistering start proved crucial as defending champion Ahmad Almutairi of Kuwait threatened to snatch victory by closing the sizeable gap, only to cross the line a tenth of a second behind.
Small’s success was an upgrade on the bronze he won behind Almutairi at Rio 2016, with third place on the podium on this occasion going to his GB team-mate Harri Jenkins in a season’s best 18.55secs.
“I entered the race, I don’t ever expect outcomes, I just go and do it and see what happens and hey ho this is where we got,” the 28-year-old told Channel 4.
“I normally have a Garfield brought to me where ‘I hate Mondays’, so I may have to change that now.”
Phoebe Paterson Pine beats GB team-mate Jess Stretton on way to gold medal
By Molly McElwee
Great Britain’s Phoebe Paterson Pine won a shock gold in archery, after eliminating team-mate and Paralympics champion Jess Stretton in the early rounds. A debutant at these Games, Paterson Pine had not allowed herself to look beyond her second round tie against close friend Stretton and even apologised to her when she snuck the victory 141-140 on Monday morning.
From then on though she was ruthless in her pursuit of a medal, winning a quarter-final, semi-final and then the gold medal match in a two-hour timeframe, all while contending with brutally hot and windy conditions at the Yumenoshima Field.
In the final she showed the same consistency that had helped her through the earlier rounds, to best Mariana Zuniga Varela – Chile’s first ever archer to appear at the Paralympics. It was tight though, Paterson Pine needing an eight to secure the victory 134-133. Luckily, she said, her poor maths meant she had no idea what exactly was required to clinch the individual compound Paralympic title.
Cheltenham-born Paterson Pine, who has spina bifida, was inspired to take up archery during the London 2012 Games, when on holiday with her family at a Centre Parcs resort. From there she never looked back, and has been on this journey within ParalympicsGB’s elite pathway since 2014 – when she first met Stretton.
Stretton made her name in Rio, winning a stunning gold at just 16. But in Tokyo she was forced to make way for Paterson Pine who, despite the competition, could not help but feel conflicted about ousting her friend. “I immediately turned to her and said ‘I’m sorry’,” Paterson Pine said of her win over Stretton. “Because she’s an incredibly good shot, works incredibly hard, incredibly talented. Just one of those things. You’re so close, on a level with somebody, that it can go either way. I know if she had won she’d be feeling the exact same thing.”
Jonnie Peacock dethroned but shares bronze after photo finish
By Oliver Brown, Chief Sports Writer
“If that’s not an advert for Paralympic sport in 11 seconds,” said Jonnie Peacock, after the vanishingly rare occurrence of a shared medal in a sprint event, “then I don’t know what is.” The T64 100 metres final has cemented itself as the marquee spectacle of these Games, due in large part to the Briton’s dramatic back-to-back golds in London and Rio, and this Tokyo instalment was one for posterity: a race in which the top four all dipped under 10.8sec, and where the defending champion and German rival Johannes Floors could not even be split by thousandths in their dead heat for bronze. While Peacock has enjoyed more lustrous prizes in his career, few have been so memorably earned.
Four men were captured within the same photo finish: winner Felix Streng, surprise silver medallist Sherman Isidro Guity Guity of Costa Rica, with the duelling Peacock and Floors barely a blade’s breadth behind. So blurred was the finish, it took over three minutes for it to be confirmed that Peacock would feature on the Paralympic podium once more. The theatre, just as much as the race itself, left him breathless. “I didn’t think you could share medals in sprints,” he gasped. “Has this ever happened?”
Precedents are exceedingly scarce. The same phenomenon was witnessed at the first modern Olympics, in 1896, when American Francis Lane and Hungary’s Alajos Szokolyi secured a joint bronze in the 100m. A more recent memory is of Jamaica’s Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson tying for silver in the women’s event at Beijing 2008. But in a Paralympic context, this was an unheard-of sight. While Peacock had been chasing history, desperate to burnish become the sprint king at a third consecutive Games, he was ultimately content to contribute to this extraordinary first.
“I feel like this is one of the best sports, the best races,” he said. “The Paralympics has the ability to change things. Fifteen per cent of the world is made of disabled people, and we need to be represented. When I was growing up, Long John Silver was the only disabled person I saw. I’m so proud to be part of this.”
One quality always guaranteed with Peacock, whose right leg was amputated below the knee aged five after contracting meningitis, is a searing honesty. For all his relief that five years’ work had yielded a medal, no matter how slender the margin, other emotions simmered close to the surface. In particular, he was strikingly self-critical about his own running technique, describing how his body had shifted out of alignment at the crucial moment. “If you had taken a picture of the race at 60m and said, ‘Jonnie, that’s where you’re going to be,’ I’d have said, ‘Right, I’m taking the gold medal,’” he reflected.
“It’s a lack of experience on my part. I lost it. I could feel my shoulders going backwards, and I know that my required position is for shoulders to be over the hips. I didn’t do that over the last 20m. My top speed is what let me down. It’s a lack of experience – all I can do is take full responsibility. That’s what sport should be about, though. If you make a mistake in the Paralympic final, you should be made to pay for it.”
Even though he and German nemesis Streng cultivate an antagonism on track, they are amicable towards each other the instant they cross the line. We saw as much in the post-race interview area at the National Stadium, where Streng was the first to embrace Peacock, who told him: “Next year, man.” “I’m not scared of you,” came the reply. For it is back in Japan in 12 months’ time, at the world championships in Kobe, where Peacock will have the chance to wrest back his alpha-male status.
Peacock is a naturally superstitious type. He has sections of a St Christopher’s necklace built into his blade, not to mention pieces of his dogs’ toys woven into his sweatband. But he can also be a coolly rational analyst when the mood takes him. Knowing that Streng had been the quicker man all season, he acknowledged: “Felix’s success is all about coaching. We looked at blade technology in 2015, and found that it made just two hundredths of a difference over 60m. I moved coaches to Dan Pfaff and took three tenths off my personal best in a few months. Felix has gone from an old-school German approach to an elite system in the UK, with Steve Fudge, and it has paid off.”
So ferocious is the competition in this sprinting cohort, Peacock expects the world record of 10.54 to be broken inside a year. As perhaps the Paralympics’ most marketable figure, he perceives it as his duty to propel his sport to fresh heights. Even in bronze on Monday night, he could console himself that this was a quest fulfilled.