At the 2008 Summer Paralympics, the Chinese swimmers finished second on the medals table to the Americans with 13 golds. Even though they had the most overall medals (52) that year, it was still an overall disappointing result after 19 golds in 2004.
The Chinese swimmers are back on top of the world though, at least based on their day 1 record haul from the London Aquatics Centre. It was quite a first day too, with 7 World Records going down already and 15 gold medals awarded.
China kicked the meet off with a pair of gold medals, and World Records, in the men’s and women’s S6 100 backstrokes. On the men’s side, Tao Zheng won in 1:13.56, which breaks the 1:13.99 set by Russian Igor Plotnikov in 2004. Zheng and his teammate Jia Hongguang were dead-even at the turn, but Zheng had a much better back-half to win by more than a second.
In the women’s race, Dong Lu blew away the field with a 1;24.71 World Record of her own. That lopped a second-and-a-half from the record held by Mirjam de Koning-Peper of the Netherlands, who was 3rd in this race.
The 53-year old Koning-Peper was born with issues in connective tissues, and after 7 ACL surgeries and a hernia that left her without most of the function in her legs. For her to excel this way in a sport like backstroke that is so heavily dependent on legs speaks to incredible upper-body strength.
Great Britain’s Nyree Kindred earned the home team their first medal of the meet with a silver.
For the Americans, the first podium, and victory, went to none-other-than the American superstar and Coca-Cola commercial-girl Jessica Long: a perfect way to buzz up the Games in the United States.
She swam a 1:10.32 to win the women’s S8 100 fly in a new Paralympic Record – though that just missed by two tenths her World Record set at the US Trials. In the process, however, her 50 meter split of 32.6 broke that World Record that also had belonged to her (not an uncommon sight in Paralympic swimming).
Long was born in Siberia and lived in a Russian orphanage for the first 13 months of her life before being adopted by the American Longs. At the age of 18, she had her lower legs amputated. She still has great height, and uses incredibled core strength to come off of the turn and dominate the back-half of this race.
Second went to Kateryna Istomina from Para powers the Ukraine in 1:11.53; that added half-a-second to her old Paralympic Record from prelims. China’s Shenganan Gang was 3rd in 1:13.28.
The first gold for the British went to Jonathan Fox in the men’s S7 100 backstroke, which he won in 1:10.46. That was six-tenths off of his World and Paralympic Records set in prelims, but was still more-than-enough to hold off Yevheniy Bohodayko of the Ukraine (1:11.31). The lone American entry in the event, defending Paralympic champion Lantz Lamback, finished 10th in prelims and out of the final.
In the women’s version of the same race, Australia Jacqueline Freney cut another half-a-second off of her Paralympic Record from the morning with a 1:22.84. That pulled a huge upset over Germany’s Kirsten Bruhn, who in April broke the World Record in the race more than a second better than the gold-medal-winning time. Bruhn was 2nd here well back with a 1:25.22, and American Cortney Jordan was 3rd in 1:25.33.
For Bruhn, this result puts in some jeopardy her quest for a third-straight gold medal in the 100 breaststroke later in the meet.
South African Natalie du Toit, one of the few athletes in history to compete at the Olympic and Paralympic Games (she swam open water in 2008), began her last hurrah in swimming with a gold medal in the women’s S9 100 fly. Her 1:09.30 was far from the World Record that she owns (well ahead of anybody else in history), but with a possible 7 gold medals in her sights, she will be satisfied with the victory.
Du Toit was once a promising International level swimmer for South Africa, including competing at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, until 2001. In February of that year, she was struck by a car while riding her scooter home from practice, and her left leg was amputated below the knee. Since then, she has dominated the IPC swimming (to the tune of now 11 Paralympic gold medals). As she heads into retirement after this meet, however, her biggest contribution to sport will be her ability to bridge the divide between Para and not. Du Toit was Oscar Pistorious before Oscar Pistorious, including a 4th-place finish at the Open Water World Championships in 2008.
Canada stamped a gold medal on their tally on day 1 as well, as Benoit Huot won the men’s SM10 200 IM in 2:10.01. That shaved two-tenths off of his own World Record from Canada’s Olympic Trials in April. Huot pulled away from Brazilian star Andre Brasil (2nd – 2:12.36) with a big breaststroke swim; that’s Brasil’s only weak stroke.
Expect Brasil to come back and win many golds at this meet, though Huot’s ability to hang with him on the closing freestyle leg (30.94-30.70) bodes well for the Canadian’s chances at this meet as well.
Other Notable Results from Day 1:
- New Zealand’s Sophie Pascoe dominated the women’s S10 200 IM with a 2:25.65 for the 6th World Record of the meet. She cut two seconds off of the old mark in the prelims, and then another three in finals. The runner-up was Canada’sSummer Mortimer, the old World Reecord holder, in 2:23.08.
- Brazil’s Daniel Dias took down record number 7 with a 32.05 in the men’s S5 50 freestyle. That’s 6-tenths better than the old mark. American Roy Perkins scored bronze in 33.69.
As mentioned, China dominated the medal counts on the first day of the meet with 8 out of a possible 45 already in their pockets. The Americans did well in terms of quantity, but with three bronzes sit fairly far down the rankings still. With Victoria Arlen’sreinstatement to the S6 category, however, their gold-medal swims should pick up as this meet goes on.
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|8||United States of America||1||0||3||4|