LONDON, England (AFP) — A near capacity crowd at the Olympic Stadium yesterday greeted the first day of athletics at the Paralympics but the jubilant mood was overshadowed by a mix-up that saw the wrong athlete awarded a gold medal.
There was controversy, too, at the Velodrome, where the British favourite in the men’s C4/5 1km time-trial angrily protested a decision not to allow him to restart after slipping at the start.
The day had started off well, with nearly 80,000 people packed into the Olympic Stadium in east London roaring T54 wheelchair racers around the track in the women’s 5,000m heats to the astonishment of athletes.
“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.
Denmark’s Jackie Christiansen, who won gold in the men’s F42/44 shot with a throw of 18.16m, added: “It was really exciting out there. It was surely the biggest crowd I’ve seen in my lifetime.
“And the crowd were great. They were with us all the way.”
But the mood was soured after organisers admitted that the first field event gold medallist — Mariaa Pomazan of Ukraine — was wrongly awarded the F35/36 discus title.
LOCOG blamed “inaccurate results data” from the Raza system — a statistical model used in combined class field events to determine final positions on points rather than distance.
The amended result saw Pomazan relegated to silver, swapping places with China’s Wu Qing, while Wu’s compatriot Bao Jiongyu was relegated to fourth. Her bronze was taken by Australia’s Katherine Proudfoot.
In the Velodrome, Felicity Johnson and Stephanie Morton gave Australia another track cycling gold in the Velodrome, while Liang Guihua added to China’s tally, winning the men’s C2 individual pursuit.
Britain’s Mark Lee Colbourne, a silver medallist in the C1-2-3 1km time-trial on Thursday, took the C1 3km individual pursuit in a new world record of 3:53.881.
But his teammate Jody Cundy, the favourite in the C4/5 1km time-trial, was left angry and distraught after slipping out of the starting gate and being denied a restart by officials.
He was led away from the track shouting and swearing after throwing a water bottle, as British team officials lodged a protest. But world governing body the International Cycling Union (UCI) held firm, blaming the slip on “rider error”.
“It is tough for the athlete. He has trained hard for three years. I can appreciate his frustration,” said UCI technical delegate Louis Barbeau of Canada.
Cundy later apologised to the crowd for his language.
Elsewhere Martine Wright, who lost both legs during the Islamist suicide bombings on London’s public transport network on July 7, 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.
“It was absolutely amazing,” she told AFP after the match. “I’ve been on quite a journey the last few years.”