Ballard's World Class Form Continues in Knowlsey
Graeme Ballard (coach: Steve Thomas) - following his brilliant T36 100m World Record in Tuesday’s BT Paralympic World Cup – continued his impressive run of form with victory in a world class field at today’s Knowsely Disability Athletics Grand Prix (Kirkby Sports College, Saturday 26 May).
Lining up alongside his Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team mate Ben Rushgrove (Rob Ellchuk), Ballard also went head to head with China’s So Wa Wai, the athlete whose World Record he smashed earlier in the week.
His winning time of 12.06 was effectively meaningless with a strong tailwind of +5.6m/s, but the victory reinforced his recent progress.
“Obviously you have to respect your opposition, that’s really important, but I wasn’t nervous about racing against Wa Wai,” said Ballard; “I was just fully focused on what I was doing, as I always am, because there’s no point in worrying about anyone else.
“I knew they were coming back at me in the later stages but that gave me a chance to practice my dip finish which my coach wanted.”
The windy conditions were the ruination of a good quality meeting on a fast Mondo track in the sunshine, but there was a welcome return to action for David Weir (Jenny Archer) who was a late withdrawal from Paralympic World Cup after a high speed track crash in Switzerland just days before.
The three time World Champion was undoubtedly in amazing shape, however, as he raced to victory in the T54 800m (1:38.46) and 5000m (10:45.32) against Canada’s Josh Cassidy, the 2010 London Marathon champion.
“We couldn’t have gone much quicker,” said Weir, who hit a top speed of 22mph during race with the wind at his back. “It was like a tough fartlek session; we were pushing really hard up the back straight for 150m then we were able to ease off a bit on the home straight and let the wind carry us.”
Also frustrated with the conditions, double World Champion and World Record holder Hannah Cockroft (Peter Eriksson) was denied a new World Record when she clocked 17.11 in the T33-34/51-54 100m with a ridiculous +9.5m/s wind.
“I’m a bit disappointed as my aim was to beat Georgina (her T54 team mate Georgina Oliver) and I obviously didn’t,” said the Halifax athlete who finished third overall in the mixed classification race. “It was hard on the start with the wind, it could have pushed us into a false start, but at the same time I wanted to use the wind to try to go under 17 seconds. I’m building towards a target and if I’d gone sub-17 I’d have been a little bit closer, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks and it’s fine, I’m just ready for a rest.”
Shelly Woods (Peter Eriksson) had looked good with victory in the 800m (2:00.48) but opted out of the 5000m on medical advice and will hopefully be back in action tomorrow.
In addition to the more experienced athletes on the start list, Sam Ruddock (Joseph McDonnell) and Olivia Breen (Leroy Elliott), relative newcomers to the sport, were continuing their athletics development.
22-year-old Ruddock, a Loughborough University graduate and former American Footballer, was fourth overall and second T35 in the combined class T35-38 100m in 13.34 (+5.7m/s).
“I was training with my American Football team when I got spotted by an athletics coach,” he explained. “He was watching me do some sprints and he just asked me if I’d thought about trying athletics, he said “you’ve got speed, you’ve got talent,” and when someone says that to you it’s a big deal. My first race was the Charnwood Open in mid April and then I went to Croatia to race my first race out of blocks. Today would have been a big PB if it wasn’t for the wind.”
T38 Breen, who has been competing in non-disability athletics since 2010, has only recently started to compete against athletes with a disability and is showing great promise.
She raced to victory in the women’s T35-38 100m in 13.87 (+7.2m/s).
Elsewhere in the UK, former wheelchair racer Josie Pearson (Anthony Hughes) – in only her first full summer since transitioning from track to field - confirmed her throwing talent when she recorded a new F51 discus World Record of 6.66m (still to be ratified) at the CP Sport Grand Prix in Chelmsford, Essex. She erased the previous mark of 6.13m which was achieved by Ireland’s Catherine O’Neill at the Beijing Paralympic Games almost four years ago.
At the same event, IPC World Championships bronze medallist Hollie Arnold (Anthony Hughes), who made her Paralympic Games debut as a 14-year-old in Beijing, recorded a 35.05m lifetime best in the F46 javelin, while her training partner Kyron Duke (also Hughes), also a podium finisher at the Worlds in New Zealand last year, smashed his F40 shot putt best with a distance of 10.79m.