Maria Lyle [Women’s T35 100m] and Zak Skinner [Men’s T13 Long Jump] both set Championship records as they added to their own gold medal tally to round-off a successful 2021 European Para Athletics Championships for the British team.
Lyle and Skinner were two of five gold medallists on the final day in Bydgoszcz with Aled Davies [Men’s F63 Shot Put], Libby Clegg & Chris Clarke [Women’s T11 200m] and Fabienne André [Women’s T34 800m] all winning gold on Saturday (5 June) to take GB & NI’s final gold medal tally to 14 as bronze medals for Ali Smith [Women’s T38 400m final], Harri Jenkins [Men’s T33/T34 Final] and Zac Shaw [T12 100m final] completed the team’s total medal haul of 37.
The British team did not have to wait long for gold in Saturday’s final session as the first track event of the evening saw Maria Lyle (Jamie Bowie; Team East Lothian) complete the sprint double in style, clocking a Championship record as she added the T35 100m European title to her T35 200m gold from day two.
The 21-year-old got off to a brilliant start, racing away from her opponents to establish a clear advantage within the opening metres. It was an advantage that continued to grow with Lyle finishing more than a second-and-a-half ahead of her closest rival.
Lyle crossed the line in a time of 14.39 (1.1m/s), knocking over half-a-second off the European record she set at her debut Championships in 2014 at the age of just 14, rounding-off another memorable week for the Scottish athlete.
Speaking after securing her second gold and second Championship record of the week, Lyle said: “I am really happy to win another gold. My start was good, maybe I just tightened up a wee bit, but overall, I’m happy with my race and it’s nice to have the opportunity to put your training into practice.
“I am happy with where I am [in 2021] my coach and I decided to come here in preparation for Tokyo, hopefully, in a couple of months, just to get that feel of big champs, going through a call room and all the normal procedures, so I’m really lucky to be selected and be part of a great team. It’s been really nice to be part of the team.”
Zak Skinner (Aston Moore; Loughborough Students) also did the double as the 22-year-old set a new Championship record to take the win in the men’s T13 Long Jump to add to his T13 100m gold from earlier in the Championships.
It was a brilliant battle between Skinner and Spain’s Ivan Jose Cano Blanco in the long jump final as the Spaniard took the lead in round two, surpassing Skinner’s first round attempt of 6.69m (+0.2m/s) by 10cm. But the advantage was soon back with Skinner. Taking to the runway for round three, the Loughborough athlete knew he needed a response and he delivered superbly; recording a personal best and Championship record distance of 6.92m (-1.5m/s).
It has also been a Championships to remember for Fabienne André (Jenny Archer; Weir Archer Academy) as she claimed her second gold medal of her debut European Championships to ensure it was a golden end for British squad.
Having won gold in the women’s T34 100m on Thursday, the Weir Archer Academy athlete was back on the track in the women’s T34 800m, the final event in Bydgoszcz. André took the race on from the front, ensuring she had the advantage over Russia’s Veronika Doronina as the athletes broke away from their lanes on the opening lap. Always holding an advantage, André made her move with 200m to go, finishing nearly seven seconds quicker than Doronina.
André’s time of 2:15.18 not only sealed another gold medal but also lowered her PB to 2:15.18. After the race André said: “To come away with a PB in the 800m and a gold medal is incredible. This is the last event of the Championships, so it is mad to be the last British athlete competing and I’m just really happy to finish it strongly. I’m looking forward to more opportunities, hopefully, in the future.
“I wasn’t sure how to play the race. I was just going round thinking I’ve got to go for it, I knew I had lots left in the tank, so I just had to leave it all out on the track. It has all been incredible. I haven’t been racing for that long, so this has been great for me. To come away with medals and PBs makes me so happy.”
Libby Clegg (Joe McDonnell; Charnwood) and Chris Clarke won gold in a thrilling women’s T11 200m final which saw the pair need to use all their experience and teamwork to claim the title in what was only their third race together in five years.
The double Paralympic champions from Rio 2016 showed real speed, strength and synchronicity to power through in the final 50m in what was a real battle down the home straight as the three eventual medallists lined-up across the track. Clegg and Clarke crossed the line in 27.41 (+0.7m/s) to seal another major championship title.
Reflecting on her first major championships gold since the birth of her son Edward in 2019, Clegg said: “This has been a long journey for us to get to this point. It hasn’t been the easiest five years so to win a gold medal at a European Championships is amazing. Any sort of international medal you have to be happy with. I’m so pleased I get to take a medal home for Edward.
“I’ve really lacked confidence over the last few years, so for me to come here, not running the quickest of times, but just making it through and winning it makes me quite happy. It’s going to feel pretty good getting back on that podium. It’s been a rough time with mental health issues, Chris ruptured his Achilles, I had a baby, it’s been an interesting few years.”
The golden rush was started earlier in the session when Aled Davies (Ryan Spencer-Jones; Cardiff) took to the circle in the Men’s F63 Shot Put as he looked to win his seventh European title.
The 30-year-old led after round 1 with his first attempt of 13.83m but two F63 Championship records by Tom Habscheid of Luxembourg saw Davies in second at the halfway stage following fouls on his second and third attempts.
Davies responded on his fourth attempt, throwing 15.17m to reclaim the lead, a distance which would secure another gold for the double Paralympic champion and seven-time world champion.
Speaking after winning another gold, Davies said: “It was a different one from me; I wasn’t myself out there today, so many emotions. 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. Hopefully now this is the first step towards the build-up to Tokyo, but I definitely need a few more competitions, I think.”
The medal success kept coming on the track with Ali Smith (Benke Blomkvist; Guildford & Godalming), Harri Jenkins (Nathan Stephens; DSW Para Academy) and Zac Shaw (Leon Baptiste; Cleethorpes) all claiming bronze medals in their respective events.
Smith – who finished sixth in the women’s T38 100m earlier in the week - set a personal best of 1:03.91 in a very quick 400m final, with race winner Luca Ekler of Hungary setting a new world record.
With a three-point plan of “relax”, “go” and “run my own race” written on her arm, Smith ran under 1:04 for the first time to claim European bronze while chasing down gold and silver position in the final 100m.
Another bronze on the track quickly followed in the Men’s T33/T34 Final with Jenkins stopping the clock in a time of 18.64 (+0.9m/s) to finish third ahead of teammate and Championship debutant James Freeman (Jenny Archer; Weir Archer Academy).
With the two T34 athletes pulling away to challenge each other for gold, the battle for bronze was between Jenkins and Freeman, with Jenkins having the advantage on the line, a second ahead of Freeman, who also recorded a season’s best (19.66).
After being an integral member of the silver-medal winning 4x100m Universal Relay team on Friday evening, Zac Shaw was back 24 hours later with another medal around his neck. In the penultimate event on the track, Shaw took bronze in a high-quality men’s T12 100m final, lowering his personal best to 11.06 (+1.0m/s) to clinch the medal on the line and hold off the challenge of Germany’s Marcel Boettger.
Dan Sidbury (Christine Parsloe; Sutton & District) ended his busy week with fourth-place in the men’s T54 5000m. Already going home with silver in the Men’s 1500m T54, Sidbury kept himself in medal contention throughout the 5000m final, his fifth race of the week, positioning himself in the leading group, including a spell setting the pace at the front.
Battling for the medals down the home straight, Sidbury finished just behind the bronze medallist of Julien Casoli of France with the top-four athletes separated by only 0.45 seconds.
Polly Maton (Colin Baross; Team Devizes) rounded-off her Championships with eighth in the women’s T47 100m; a week that saw the 21-year-old claim bronze in the long jump with a PB of 5.28m.
Para Athletics Head Coach Paula Dunn reflected on the Championships, “I am so proud of this team and their performances this week. This was our first major Championships since the Worlds in 2019, and we’ve seen several fantastic performances across the board. I’ve been very impressed with our young athletes who are progressing through the Performance Pathway. So many athletes have stepped up at these Championships, so the future looks bright for the sport in this country.
“Ahead of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, this was going to be an important marker for a number of athletes. For some, their performances will have given them a boost in confidence to push on for this summer and beyond. For others, it will have provided that motivation to come back even stronger.
“I’m so pleased with the whole team. These are a Championships like no other, and I’m proud of how the team have conducted themselves and adapted to the challenges and restrictions they have faced. We are grateful to all the organisers who have made this event possible.”
British medallists (37):
Gold (14): Fabienne André [Women’s T34 100m and 800m], Columba Blango [Men’s T20 400m], Libby Clegg and Chris Clarke [Women’s T11 200m], Aled Davies [Men’s F63 Shot Put], Kayleigh Haggo [Women’s RR3 100m], Sophie Hahn [Women’s T38 100m], Maria Lyle [Women’s T35 100m and 200m], Daniel Pembroke [Men’s F13 Javelin], Zak Skinner [Men’s T13 100m and Long Jump], Rafi Solaiman [Men’s RR3 100m], Thomas Young [Men’s T38 100m], Maria Lyle [Women’s T35 100m],
Silver (9): John Bridge [Men’s T47 400m], Jonathan Broom-Edwards [Men’s T42/44/62/64 High Jump], Shaun Burrows [Men’s T38 400m], Lydia Church [Women’s F12 Shot Put], Kyron Duke [Men’s F41 Shot Put], Dan Greaves [Men’s F64 Discus], Danny Sidbury [Men’s T54 1500m], Vanessa Wallace [Women’s F34 Shot Put], 4x100m Universal Relay
Bronze (14): Ola Abidogun [Men’s T47 100m], Olivia Breen [Women’s T38 Long Jump], Harri Jenkins [Men’s T33/T34 Final], Nathan Maguire [Men’s T54 400m and 800m], Polly Maton [T47 Long Jump], Luke Nuttall [Men’s T46 1500m], Stef Reid [Women’s T64 Long Jump], Zac Shaw [T12 100m final], Luke Sinnott [Men’s T63 Long Jump], Ali Smith [Women’s T38 400m final], Emily Stewart [Women’s F38 Discus], Alexander Thomson [Men’s T38 400m], Harrison Walsh [Men’s F64 Discus]