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UK Athletics

GB disability athletes in hot form Down Under

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David Weir takes victory
David Weir

Some of Great Britain’s leading disability athletes interrupted their tough warm weather training schedules in Australia to turn in some world-class performances under the watchful eye of UK Athletics Performance Manager for Disability Kathryn Periac in the Summer Down Under Series for wheelchair racers and Thunder Down Under meeting for throwers in temperatures of 35-40° in Canberra over the weekend of 20 and 21 January.


David Weir – best known for his two victories in the Flora London Marathon but also the world record holder at 200m and 400m in the T54 category – led the way by lowering the British Men’s 5000m record to 10 minutes 15.96 seconds, holding off Kurt Fearnley (Australia) by a mere four-hundredths of a second after an enthralling battle in the heat. It was also an Australian allcomers’ record, eclipsing the time achieved by the winner of the Sydney Paralympics in 2000.


Two GB throwers also re-wrote pieces of their hosts’ record books. Stephen Miller set Australian allcomers’ F32 records in the club (30.65m, within 3cm of his own World record) and discus (14.10m, further than his 2006 best). Completing the GB record-busters, Andrew Williams set a new Australian allcomers’ F32 shot record of 6.60m.


The British record was just one of Weir’s successes. First he enjoyed a strong win in the 400m, clocking 48.45 seconds, ahead of a world-class field. Then came his 5000m success. And finally he was only narrowly beaten in the 1500m by Fearnley, reversing the 2006 World Championships result. Fearnley clocked 3:04.15 to win by a mere five-hundredths of a second. Brian Alldis also lowered his personal best considerably; precise times will be added to this report as soon as they are known.


Anne Wafula-Strike beat her personal best by half a second in the 100m, clocking 17.75, improved on her 200m best by almost a full second, albeit with a following wind of +2.1, and missed a new 400m PB by about a tenth of a second when winning her heat in 62.56.


Shelly Woods showed the benefits of an extended training period in Australia with new coach Andrew Dawes, attacking fiercely and taking strong leads in her events, and only just being collared on the line in her two longer events by the two experienced Canadians Diane Roy and Chantal Peticlerc. She clocked 60.01 in her 400m, 3:36.26 in her 1500m and 12:25.9 in her 5000m – not a bad day’s work!


In the club Stephen Miller was less than 3m below his own world record in winning with 30.65m, and 15-year-old Thomas Green less than 10cm from his personal best in taking second place with 20.39m.


In the discus, Danny West also threw only just below his best, reaching 33.71m to register another GB victory and achieved a world-class 10.11m in the shot.


Many of the British athletes visited Tidbinbilla Wildlife Park on Sunday morning, seeing kangaroos, koalas, rock wallabies and emus in the wild, and then the racers took to the competition stage again, with the Stromlo Hot Lap.


This event consisted of a 1.2km individual time trial, and then the six fastest women and nine fastest men got to race again, in groups of three, over two laps (2.4km) to decide the final placings.


The seemingly tireless David Weir recorded the third fastest time in the first round, but then took victory in the final from Ernst Van Dyke (South Africa) and Maesuzuma Soejima (Japan). Brian Alldis moved from ninth fastest in the first round to finish second in his group and eighth overall.


In the women's race, Shelly Woods was narrowly beaten by Peticlerc in a thrilling race, the veteran Canadian only just hanging against the flying young Briton.


Training for the GB & NI squad resumes at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra for the throws group, with the wheelchair racers moving to Sydney for the final events in their Series on 24 January (track) and 26 January (road).


The SDU series has extensive prize money, using percentage points from the world record for track events, to calculate series winners. The TDU, which continues on 26 and 27 January, puts the emphasis more on training and education and there are no prize rewards or series winners.