Gold rush on Day 8 of Paralympics

RIO DE JANEIRO – Day eight of the Rio Paralympics Thursday saw 54 gold medals awarded across eight sports, including canoeing’s Paralympic debut.

Australian amputee sprinter Scott Reardon charged to gold in the T42 100m final, setting a new Paralympic record 14 years on from the brutal accident that could have ended his sporting life for good.

Aged just 12, the New South Wales schoolboy got his shoelace caught in the power take-off shaft of a tractor, severing his right leg through the knee.

But, having always loved water-skiing and running, he resolved not to let the accident shape his existence, and was walking again within a week.

He won the first of two water-sking world championships on one leg five years later, before switching to athletics.

Reardon won silver at London 2012, and is now champion in the blue riband event.

Sharing silver, Denmark’s Daniel Wagner and Team GB’s Richard Whitehead both crossed the line just 0.06 seconds behind — the latter finishing with the characteristic burst to the line that saw him claim gold in the 200m earlier this week.

Two wonder goals from the mercurial Jefinho Gonçalves ensured the Paralympics’ host nation will battle it out for gold in the blind 5-a-side football final.

Brazil’s Jefinho Goncalves (left) scored two goals to see his side into the final.
Brazil’s Jefinho Goncalves (left) scored two goals to see his side into the final.

Victory over China in the semis guaranteed at least a silver medal, and means three-time champion Brazil have reached the final in every Paralympic Games since the sport’s introduction at Athens 2004.
But it was far from plain sailing.

China had threatened to spoil the party in Barra, and led courtesy of a fine left-footed strike early on from Wang Yafeng until Jefinho’s intervention towards the end of the first half.

Brazil’s concerted pressure eventually told, though, as the man known as the “Paralympic Pele” fired his team to another chance of glory.

After winning three time-trial titles on Wednesday, Germany continued to excel in the hand cycling road races.

A Paralympic champion in Beijing and London, Andrea Eskau started the gold rush with a time of 1:37:07, edging out Dutchwomen Laura De Vaan and Jennette Jansen to win the women’s H5 competition.

Andrea Eskau storms to victory in the hand cycling road race.
Andrea Eskau storms to victory in the hand cycling road race.

With winter medals in the 5 km cross-country skiing and Paralympic biathlon to her name already, the 45-year-old is truly a versatile champion.

Soon after, compatriot Christiane Reppe also triumphed as the H1-4 road race went down to a similarly dramatic sprint finish.

Reppe, 29, won two Paralympic bronzes as a swimmer in Athens 12 years ago. After failing to medal at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, she changed to hand cycling and became a two-time world champion.

Vico Merklein completed Germany’s golden treble with victory in the men’s H4 road race.

He was made a paraplegic after a motorcycle accident in 1997, the day before his 20th birthday, but Merklein never lost his need for speed.

He claimed silver at London 2012, and the 39-year-old’s success today means half of Germany’s 12 gold at Rio have come from cycling, lifting the country above host Brazil and Australia to fifth in the medal table.

Jeanette Chippington made her Paralympic bow as a swimmer in Seoul 28 years ago, but today she made history as the first gold medalist in para-canoeing.

Crossing the line a mere tenth of a second ahead of Germany’s Edina Muller in the KL1 division, the 46-year-old became Great Britain’s 100th medalist of the Rio Games, sparking a golden morning on the Lagoa lagoon.

Just 16 minutes later on the water, Emma Wiggs added to GB’s haul after registering a new personal best of 53.288 seconds in the KL2 final.

Wiggs has permanent nerve damage in her legs after contracting a virus 18 years ago during a gap year in Australia, but her love of sport has proven constant.

Kenyan long-distance runner Henry Kirwa won the men’s T12/13 5,000m today. The T12/13 category is for visually impaired athletes.

Henry Kirwa as he won the 5,000m.
Henry Kirwa as he won the 5,000m.

Kirwa powered to a comfortable victory in 14:17:32, beating 35-year-old defending champion El Amin Chentouf from Morocco who had to settle for silver with 14:21.04.

The bronze medal went to 26-year-old Bilel Aloui of Tunisia, who finished in 14:33:33 but set a world record — Aloui’s T13 impairment being stronger than the two other medalists.

Kirwa added today’s gold to his bronze from Sunday’s 1,500m, when he and three other Paralympians ran faster than the Olympic champion.

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