A near capacity crowd at the Olympic Stadium on Friday greeted the first day of athletics at the Paralympics, as the first medals were contested in the field events.
Nearly 80,000 people packed into the venue in east London, where the opening ceremony was held on Wednesday night, roaring T54 wheelchair racers around the track in the women’s 5,000m heats.
“It was great, I’ve never experienced such a crowd in the morning. We all raced very well,” said Switzerland’s Edith Wolf, who won the second heat.
“After Beijing I never thought I would have such a super cool feeling.
“The crowd were perfect.”
Diane Roy, of Canada, who also qualified for Sunday’s final, added: “I’m very surprised. I was thinking that in the morning it would be empty but the stadium was almost full, so it was really nice.”
The atmosphere replicated that at the Olympics earlier this month, where heats also took place to a near full-house. The Paralympics, billed by organisers as the biggest and most high-profile in its history, is a near sell-out.
The first medals were being contested in the men’s F31/32/51 club throw, women’s F37/38 long jump, women’s F35/36 discus and men’s F42/44 shot put.
Britain’s Derek Derenalagi, a former soldier who lost his legs in Afghanistan in 2007, competes in the F57/58 discus final, while the first athlete to set a world record at the venue – Hannah Cockroft – goes in the T34 100m final.
Elsewhere, Felicity Johnson and Stephanie Morton gave Australia another track cycling gold in the velodrome, beating Britain’s Aileen McGlynn and Helen Scott in the women’s blind and visually impaired 1km time trial.
New Zealand’s Philippa Gray and Laura Thompson claimed bronze.
Britain is hoping for another gold to add to Sarah Storey’s win in the C5 3km individual pursuit, with C4 world champion Jody Cundy facing off against his compatriot and counterpart in the C5 class, Jon-Allan Butterworth.
Butterworth, a former Royal Air Force technician, lost his left arm in a rocket attack in Basra, southern Iraq.
He got into sport through Battle Back, a joint initiative between the British Paralympic Association (BPA) and the Ministry of Defence to help wounded former service personnel return to an active life.
|London bombing victim Martine Wright made her debut in the women’s sitting volleyball [Reuters]|
Meanwhile Martine Wright, who lost both legs during the Islamist suicide bombings on London’s public transport network in 2005, made an emotional debut in the Paralympics, as Britain took their Games bow in sitting volleyball.
Watched by London Mayor Boris Johnson, the 39-year-old took to the court at the ExCeL exhibition centre, receiving an ovation from the crowd, eclipsing the result which saw Ukraine win easily 25-9, 25-20, 25-14.
Wright, who was on her way to work and reading about London’s successful bid to host the Olympics and Paralympics announced the day before when the bombs were triggered, has become one of the inspirational stories of the Games.
“I was unlucky to get on that Tube that day but I was so lucky to survive and I think about the 52 people who died that day,” she said last week. “I’m the lucky one, I’m embarking on that dream. I feel I was meant to make this journey.”
Forty medals were being contested on Friday, while competition starts in five-a-side football and rowing, alongside heats and finals in equestrian, goalball, judo, powerlifting, shooting, swimming, table tennis and wheelchair basketball.
Swimming sees the first events for intellectually disabled athletes. The category was dropped after Sydney in 2000, when it emerged 10 members of Spain’s victorious wheelchair basketball team had no intellectual or physical impairment.