Weir’s fourth gold and Woods’ silver confirm hosts as third in medals table
Sunday, 09 September 2012
September 9 - David Weir provided the perfect patriotic endpiece to the home Paralympics here today as he rounded off his extraordinary Games with a fourth gold medal in the T54 marathon.
And with team-mate Shelly Woods (pictured below, left, behind America's Shirley Reilly) contributing a final silver in the women's wheelchair race it meant a third place finish in the medals table for the host nation.
Britain's total of 120 medals – 17 more than their pre-Games target – surpassed that of the second placed Russian team, but the latter had a marginally better gold medal count.
China finished top with 231 medals including 95 golds.
In adding a gold on the road to the three he has already won on the track, Weir (pictured above) withstood not only searing heat, with temperatures rising towards 30 degrees, but the benevolent expectation of a nation bearing down on burly shoulders which eventually received a medal bestowed by Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
The 33-year-old from the Roundshaw estate in South London not only endured what he described as his "toughest race ever" but also the longest.
After breaking clear in the final half mile from the four racers in whose company he had led the race for more than 20 miles – a group which included Switzerland's hugely talented Marcel Hug (pictured below, left) and the Australian who was seeking to win a third successive marathon gold, Kurt Fearnley (pictured below, back right) – Weir (pictured below, front right) motored round the final bend and down the final three hundred yards or so to the finish line on The Mall.
And kept on going.
"I didn't know where the finishing line was," he said.
"That's why I looked a bit moody crossing the line because I didn't know if it was the first line, the second line.
"Then I saw the car stop down the end so I thought maybe it's down there because there was no tape.
"That's why I carried on pushing because I just didn't know.
"And I didn't know how close they were behind me."
He recorded 1 hour 30min 20sec, with Hug and Fearnley taking silver and bronze respectively in the same time of 1:30.21.
There was not much to spare, then – but you sensed that, whatever it took, Weir would have found it.
"It was close," said Hug, who had already won one track silver.
"Weir is not unbeatable.
"But today he was the best."
The home poster boy of the 2012 Paralympics soon revealed, however, that he had found the going anything but easy.
"It was tough," he said, bent over his chair in sunshine that was uncomfortable to stand in, never mind to race in.
"The first five miles I was absolutely dying, tell you the truth, I didn't think I was going to manage to cope, the heat and just everything.
"I felt flat.
I had to just dig deep and have another energy shot that I took with me just to get me going.
That was meant for about 16 miles, not the first five miles, but I'm glad I took it on board.
"It just gave me a bit more energy.
"That was the toughest race I've ever raced in my life.
"The others were all working together to try and stop me, but I'm used to that.
"I do my own thing and race as best as I can.
"The crowd were just awesome, I've never seen that before for the whole race.
"It was good to do a loop system because they get to see you more than once.
"It was just fantastic, they just give you a lift.
"My whole body was tingling.
"When I couldn't even feel my push rims it was just getting me through."
He paid tribute to the cyclists he has been training with in Richmond Park, where he has been doing three-minute miles in the middle of endurance work.
"If it was the first mile, the 16th mile or even the 20th mile, whatever I was doing I had to push as hard as possible for three minutes on this bit in Richmond Park which was flat, just to re-enact the finish, just to see if my body can cope with sprinting at the last of 26 miles.
"I was flat out from when I came round the last bend, so when I took the roundabout and then came left I just sprinted as hard as I could."
Weir (pictured above, centre) had special praise for the Japanese athlete Masazumi Soejima (pictured above, right), who finished fourth in 1:30.24 despite having an earlier puncture.
"He had a crash on the first corner about three miles in so to catch us up – he's a phenomenal athlete," Weir (pictured above) said.
He added that his partner Emily, who is pregnant, was watching him in The Mall.
"There's about 50 or 60 deep, maybe more, from where I live on the Roundshaw Estate in south London.
"They're all on the corner – my mum, dad, everyone I just hope Emily's alright.
"I hope she hasn't given birth!"
Weir reacted with extreme prejudice to an invitation to talk about whether he might continue to the Rio Paralympics, when he will be 37.
"Oh mate...I'm not thinking of anything at the moment.
His sights were more happily set on the immediate prospect of a beer, and the medium-term prospect of a beach holiday in Ibiza with his mates.
"I said I'd go after the Games if I was allowed with Emily.
"She went to New York in February and I said if you go to New York could I go to Ibiza and she said yes.
"She fell pregnant so I forgot about it to tell you the truth.
"It was only in June time she said 'I really want you to go, you always miss out on going out with your friends, you deserve it'.
"She's a great support.
"She's an amazing woman."
The streets of the capital were familiar territory for Weir, who won his sixth London Marathon title in April, but the course itself was not; a twisting, technical affair around the heart of the city comprising one loop of 2.2 miles followed by three eight-mile laps requiring a total of 63 turns and including a hairpin bend at the Tower of London.
Fearnley described it as "more of a sprinter's course, not a traditional marathon course".
The traditional marathon hurt was still present, however, as Woods testified after finishing just a hundredth of a second down on Shirley Reilly (pictured above, centre) of the United States in a time of 1:46.33, with Sandra Graf (pictured above, right) of Switzerland taking bronze in 1:46.35.
"Twenty six miles is a long way," said Woods.
"But sprinting after 26 miles – oh, man, it hurts.
"I've got blisters but it's 100 per cent worth it.
"I dug as deep as I could and it's something I'll remember for ever."
The race had briefly offered the prospect of Tatyana McFadden emulating Weir's achievement of a fourth gold, but after establishing a clear lead by five miles the American's prospects were ruined by a puncture and she eventually had to settle for ninth place in 1:58.47.
For Weir, however, the day went perfectly and with four track and field golds in one Games he has now emulated the fellow British wheelchair racer who served as his first inspiration, Tanni Grey-Thompson.
Gold in the earlier men's T12 marathon went to Alberto Suárez Laso (pictured above, front) of Spain in a world record of 2:24.50, and Tito Sena of Brazil won the men's T46 marathon in a personal best of 2:30.40.
September 2012: Wonderful Weir makes it golden hat trick on Thriller Thursday
September 2012: Weir's home poster boy status confirmed by second gold on the track
September 2012: Wheelchair race ace Weir sets Olympic Stadium alight with stunning 5,000m victory
August 2012: Wheelchair race ace Weir reveals Olympic inspirations as he chases further Paralympic glory
July 2012: Exclusive - I'm only targeting one Paralympic gold at London 2012, admits wheelchair racer Weir