Pic: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Welsh athletes produced a stunning performance as they represented Team GB at the World Para Athletics European Championships in Poland (1-5 June).
Held at the Zdzisław Krzyszkowiak Stadium in Bydgoszcz, the tournament saw seven Welsh athletes win one gold, two silver and three bronze medals – plus setting two personal bests and three season bests as well.
In any circumstance it would have been an incredible achievement, but in the first major international championships since the Covid-19 pandemic, and with athletes having to quickly acclimatise to new safety protocols and strict social distancing procedures, the collective success was all the more remarkable.
Aled Davies topped an outstanding competition, winning gold in the F63 Shot Put final.
The Bridgend Para multi-titleholder was lying second at the halfway point, but secured the top medal position with a 15.17 metre fourth round throw to maintain his nine year unbeaten major tournament run. It was Aled’s seventh European title, equalling his tally of World Championship titles.
“It was a different one from me. I wasn’t myself out there today, so many emotions,” said Aled. “I really need to respect the rust as they say. It’s been a while since I’ve competed properly, I’m in great shape, this doesn’t really resemble where I am at so I’m glad to get this one out of the way.
“I’m not one to shy away from a title, I knew it was going to be hit or miss coming into this, I think I’ve possibly performed the worst I could have today so it’s a nice position to be in that I’m still competitive in the medals and, again, I will say I was lucky to win that one, but I will take it. Sometimes you’ve got to win ugly, right?”
Kyron Duke, the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships bronze medal winner, won silver in a highly competitive F41 Shot Put final – the Newport man throwing a 13.39 metre season best in the early dry conditions to claim the medal.
“It felt really good to compete again after such a long period of lockdowns and cancellations,” said Duke. “The first three throws were dry and nice. Then, literally after the split, it was a downpour, so I couldn’t make an improvement.
“To come to my first majors in two years and come away from the WPA European Championships in Polandwith silver and a season’s best, especially heading towards the Paralympics in Tokyo in a few months time, is extremely positive. There is always more to work to do, but I’m really happy to be fair and so is my coach.”
John Bridge smashed his personal best to win silver in the T47 400m final in what was an amazing senior Team GB debut. The Caerphilly youngster was in contention for victory entering the home straight, and was rightly delighted with second place and an excellent time of 50.75.
“I seriously don’t remember much about the first three hundred metres of my race,” admitted John. “Before the race started I had planned on hitting twenty-three seconds for the first two hundred metres and holding it until the very end.
“I was more aware of my surroundings in the last one hundred metres and very conscious of the two opponents hunting me down. When I crossed the line I thought I’d finished third, and it wasn't until I looked up at the big screen that I realised I’d won silver. And to top that off I also smashed my PB. This was my first major championship and I loved the opportunity to represent Great Britain and compete against so many amazing athletes. It’s an experience I will never forget.”
Harrison Walsh also put in a fantastic medal winning performance in the F64 Discus final. The former Ospreys rugby player smashed his previous personal best of 52.45 metres with a magnificent 54.85 metre throw, enabling the Mumbles man to win bronze in sensational style.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed to be honest, there are so many emotions right now,” said Harrison.
“I was nervous before, but that is good. I always got nervous before I played rugby matches. I decided then that I was never going to let it impact my performance and it paid off today. I’m so glad because this is a brilliant feeling.
“I put the discus into the cage on the first throw and it actually delayed the competition by ten minutes as they couldn’t get it down! I had to regroup then. But then on my third throw I produced my best. I was consistently above my best this year, so it can only go upwards from here for the rest of the season.”
Neath-born Harri Jenkins moved up a class to compete in the T33/34 100m, winning bronze with a season best time of 18.64.
“I was racing up a class so I knew it was going to be tough, I knew probably the best case scenario was going to be bronze but you never know,” said Harri. “I was coming here to get myself back in the mode of being at a major championships.
“I didn’t execute that race really well but, it’s fine, it’s my first big race since November 2019. There’s a lot to learn from this. I just sort of got into my head, ‘you’re not pushing very well’ throughout that race. I just need to calm down. I need to work on my transition and get into that pushing flow that I know I can do.”
Olivia Breen was delighted to win bronze in the T38 Long Jump final – a 4.94 metre season’s best in her sixth and final jump securing her a very well deserved medal.
The double Commonwealth Games gold medallist also finished fourth in the final of the T38 100m, setting a personal best time of 13.01 and missing out on a medal by just two hundredths of a second.
“I was a bit emotional after the one hundred metres final, but I’m very happy I got a medal in the long jump,” said Olivia.
“It all came down to my final jump and I was thinking to myself ‘come on, just do it, think of all the training you have done and hit the board.’ It was quite difficult because the wind kept changing, one minute it was a headwind and the next it was a tailwind. I’m just very happy I pulled it out of the bag on my last attempt.”
Rhys Jones was back representing GB for the first time in three years and gave it his all in the T37 100m final, but missed out on a medal by a mere 0.24 by finishing a very close fourth with a time of 12.16.
“I felt that my race was good, the weather was nice and warm and everything seemed to be going right,” said Rhys.
“Fourth in the European Championship is absolutely phenomenal, especially when you consider the year that we’ve had. I’m coming away from the one hundred metres final with a lot of my objectives achieved and it’s all been a very positive learning experience. Hopefully I can now take the disappointment of not getting a medal into the two hundred metres final and I’m just going to go out there and give it my all and throw everything at it – including the kitchen sink!”
And that’s exactly what the Clydach Vale man did, as he set a season’s best time of 24.22 in the T37 200m final to come a fighting fifth in a magnificent race.
“After such a long time away from competing, it was great to see the Welsh athletes out in Poland defending titles, setting personal bests and for some it was their debut performance and their first medal at a major games,” said Gemma Cutter, Disability Sport Wales’ Performance Pathway Senior Officer.
“Congratulations to the athletes, on what was a hugely successful European Athletics Championship.”
Welsh athletes – World Para Athletics European Championships results:
F63 Shot Put: Gold (7th European title)
F41 Shot Put: Silver (SB)
T47 400m: Silver (PB)
F64 Discus Throw: Bronze (PB)
T33 100m: Bronze (SB)
T38 Long Jump: Bronze
T38 100m: 4th
T37 100m: 4th
T37 200m: 5th (SB)
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