Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Little Mix, Sand Men And A Fat Lad From Southampton

We start this entry with a false start. Ukraine's Roman Pavlyk is first out of the blocks and first out of the final of the men's T36 100m as he is deemed to have jumped the gun. On closer inspection it appears that Malaysia's multiply named Mohamed Ridzuan Mohamed Puzi might have twitched first. So of course he surges to victory and claims a Paralympic record into the bargain. Great Britain's Graeme Ballard can only manage a podium-dodging fifth place.

Next on the track is Paralympic golden girl and very loud Yorkshire lass Hannah Cockroft. She's going in the women's T34 100m final which is a surprise to me because I'd always assumed she was a T53 or T54 athlete. The reason she's a T34 is that she has cerebral palsy as opposed to the kind of bog standard spinal problems suffered by malingerers like me. All of which is bad news for the other T34 girls who are left in Hannah's wake on her way to a third Paralympic gold medal of her career. There'd be two more on the way despite the organisers' dastardly plot in removing the 200m from the women's T34 programme and thus rendering Hannah unable to defend the title she won in London.

Cockroft is followed home by 15 year-old Kare Adenegan who claims the silver medal for Great Britain. The pair are interviewed together where Cockroft reveals her quirky habit of naming her chairs, which raises questions for me about whether she might have too many. Poignantly, she has named her Rio 2016 100m chair 'Tink' after a friend of hers who had been suffering from cystic fibrosis and who passed away in early 2015.

Toby Gold doesn't quite live up to his name in the men's T33 100m final, taking silver behind Kuwait's Ahmad Almutairi. Great Britain's Andrew Small takes the bronze. Gold is in no way disappointed with silver, declaring himself very happy indeed with a medal in what is his first Paralympics. Gold's father is Brazilian so it's all made extra special for him by the presence of several of his family members in Rio. Kind of like that time I won the Booker Prize when it was hosted at Thatto Heath Labour Club.

Richard Whitehead was one of the bigger personalities of London 2012 and he's in action now in the heats of the men's T42 200m. There's the usual level of posturing from Whitehead which frankly never quite convinces me. It always seems that the gun-flashing and the hollering are aimed as much at convincing himself of his own legend as anyone else. Perhaps he's got it right and that the way to persuade everyone that you are a faultless specimen of masculinity is to just keep saying it with a straight face. Of course it helps if you keep picking up gold medals. I could learn from him I suppose, though I fear I no more have it in me to go around telling everyone how great I look than I do to win the men's T42 200m. I'm still seeing Rocky Dennis in the mirror.

Also going for Great Britain is Dave Henson who, in case you missed it being announced on every television news bulletin since February, has made it to Rio after enjoying success in the Invictus Games. He struggles a little bit in his heat, just grabbing the third automatic qualification after running so far out of his lane he was almost in Argentina. However, since he ran further by moving into the lane outside him and did not impede the Sri Lankan athlete occupying that territory there is no question of any disqualification. In stark contrast to the absolute conviction of Whitehead Henson is self deprecating in his interview, calling himself a fat lad from Southampton. You'll have seen on these pages that I enjoy humour at one's own expense as much as anyone but I can't help thinking that Henson's lowly opinion of his athletic ability does something to devalue his achievement and by extension parasport as a whole.

Doubling the distance covered by Whitehead and Henson are the men's T53 athletes as their 400m heats get under way. Hot favourite is Canada's Brent Lakatos who enjoys a comfortable win. GB long jumper, parahoney, tv analyst and Mrs Lakatos Stef Reid reckons hubby isn't really trying that hard which seems ominous for the rest of the field. Great Britain's Mickey Bushell can unfortunately stop worrying about him as he finishes fifth in Lakatos' heat, but there's better news for Mo Jomni who is bumped from fifth to fourth in his heat, enough to see him qualify after Korea's Yoo Byung Hoon is disqualified. Josh George, who you may remember being publicly harangued for being barged into by an able bodied bastard during the London Marathon a couple of years ago, is out of contention having been disqualified. He doesn't seem to have much luck when he is on television.

Finally in the stadium Great Britain's Polly Maton finishes second in her heat to reach the final of the women's T47 100m, while we see one single throw in the women's F37 javelin as Brazil's Shirlene Coelho pulls off a popular home victory.

And so, if you're still with me, to the swimming pool. The women's S6 50m freestyle is billed by Channel Four's not at all biased coverage team as Ellie vs Ellie, as London 2012 superstar Ellie Simmonds goes up against 15 year-old upstart Ellie Robinson. Robinson's pre-race entrance has become one of the most talked about things of the whole games so far, but as she confidently breezes in with her hood almost completely covering her entire person I can't help but think of the sand people from the Star Wars movies. The force is strangely absent from both Ellies, however, as neither make it on to the medal podium. Ukraine's Yelyzeveta Moreshko leads home her compatriot Viktoria Savtsova. At the post-race interview, shown hours later as a result of Channel Four's by now obligatory venue-flitting, Robinson is asked for her thoughts on receiving a tweet from Little Mix. She could not have appeared more disinterested if she has received a telegraph from Peter Sutcliffe. Which is just ungrateful as far as I'm concerned. I'd love a tweet from Little Mix. So long as Jonathan Ross is pronouncing the word 'tweet'.

In the men's event Great Britain's Andrew Mullen just misses out on a medal after he finishes fourth behind USA's Roy Perkins, China's He Shiwei and Daniel Dias of Brazil.

There's better news for Alice Tai in the women's S10 100m backstroke as she grabs a bronze medal behind Australia's Sophie Pascoe and the wonderfully named Hungarian Bianka Pap. Again displaying their cutting edge analysis and insight skills Channel Four spend almost the entirety of their interview with Tai discussing what level of japery she might be getting up to in the Paralympic village with room-mate Robinson. All of which seems a little bit disrespectful.

Following on from Robinson's defeat in the pool the Ukrainians continue to torture the British as a 2-1 defeat in the 7-a-side football leaves our boys with no chance of progressing to the next stage of the tournament. Channel Four show something in the region of three minutes of this, which is about half the time they have spent talking about it and dazzling us with their poxy Lexi graphics.

Much more like it is their edit of the GB Women's wheelchair basketball clash with Germany. It's a shorter edit than previously seen when the German men met the USA, but there is a heavy focus on what turns out to be an exciting fourth quarter. By the end, our girls have pulled of an historic 50-45 win, a first ever victory over the Germans at a major international tournament. Helen Freeman is sublime, as ever, and it may just be that after many years of toil the Great Britain women's team have finally arrived as a realistic medal contender.

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