World records tumbled in the pool and on the cycling track on Thursday, as the first day of competition at the London Paralympics got under way and China won the Games’ first gold medal.
At the Velodrome, seven-time Paralympic champion Sarah Storey – who won five swimming titles before taking two more when she switched to cycling in 2008 – clocked a new world best 3min 32.170sec in the women’s C5 3km individual pursuit.
The 34-year-old British cyclist’s time was quicker than the winner of the same event for non-disabled athletes at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup event held at the same venue in February.
Joanna Rowsell, who was a member of the British women’s team that won gold in the team pursuit at the Olympics earlier this month, won that race in 3:32.364.
Storey, who was born without a functioning left hand, now races against Anna Harkowska of Poland in the final and said the crowd had spurred her on to the record.
“I know we heard our colleagues say this during the Olympics but it’s so hard to explain the energy they give you. I just can’t explain it really,” Storey told Channel 4.
“On the last lap I could hear I was on for the record. This is everything. I’ve been working on this in training so hard. I’m so chuffed.”
Meanwhile two other world records were set in qualifying for the women’s C1-2-3 3km individual pursuit: Zeng Sini, a C2 rider from China, broke the world best to book a place in the gold medal race against Australia’s Simone Kennedy.
Australia’s women then posted a new world record in the C4 3km individual pursuit, with Susan Powell qualifying quickest in 4min 03.306sec to earn the right to meet US rider Megan Fisher to win gold.
Kieran Modra and Scott McPhee will race their Australian compatriots Bryce Lindores and Sean Finning for glory in the men’s blind and visually impaired 4km tandem pursuit.
At the Aquatics Centre, Britain’s Jonathan Fox signalled his intent to upgrade his 100m backstroke S7 Paralympic silver four years ago, lowering his own previous world best by 0:59sec to 1min 9.86sec.
The 21-year-old is now favourite for the title after US swimmer Lantz Lamback, the defending champion from Beijing, could only finish 10th quickest in his heat and failed to qualify.
New Zealand’s Sophie Pascoe then set a new world best of 2min 28.73sec in the women’s 200m individual medley, while Fox’s team-mate Nyree Kindred lowered the Paralympic record in the women’s 100m backstroke S6 in 1min 27.96sec.
The end of a morning of swimming heats coincided with the final of the women’s R2 10m air rifle at the Royal Artillery Barracks, which saw China’s Zhang Cuiping win the Games’ first gold, scoring 104.9 for an overall score of 500.9.
Manuela Schmermund, of Germany, won silver while New Zealand’s Natalie Smith picked up bronze.
A total of 28 medals were up for grabs on Thursday: 15 in the pool, five at the Velodrome in track cycling; four in judo; two in powerlifting; and two in shooting.
The day’s program also includes heats in archery, equestrian, goalball, table tennis, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Games at a showpiece ceremony on Wednesday involving more than 3,000 volunteer and professional performers, many of them with a disability, combining music, dance and aerial acrobatics.
British scientist Stephen Hawking, described by organisers as “the most famous disabled person anywhere on the planet”, narrated parts of the ceremony, which was aimed at challenging perceptions about disability and changing attitudes.