LONDON, England, August 30. THE first evening of competition at the 2012 London Paralympics featured some of the top swimming in the world as global records fell at a strong clip.
China's Zheng Tao started off the first evening right with a world record in the men's 100 back S6 division. He raced to a victorious time of 1:13.56, clearing the previous standard of 1:13.99 set by Russia's Igor Plotnikov at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. China's Jia Hongguang finished second in 1:14.64 for a Chinese 1-2 in the event, while Germany's Sebastian Iwanow picked up third in 1:15.95.
China picked up its second consecutive world record and gold medal to start the evening when Lu Dong smashed the global standard with a blazing 1:24.71 in the women's 100 back S6 finale. That effort undercut the 1:26.19 set by The Netherlands' Mirjam de Koning-Peper in Berlin in 2011, as well as crushed de Koning-Peper's Games record of 1:28.34 set at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. Great Britain's Nyree Kindred earned second-place honors with a 1:26.23, just off the world-record pace, while de Koning-Peper rounded out the podium with a bronze-winning 1:29.04. Lu first broke onto the international scene as part of China's 2010 world title in the 200 medley relay 20 points. Lu lost both of her arms in a car accident as a child.
Russia's Sergey Punko, who set the world and Paralympics record in the event with a 4:08.64 in 2008, defended his title in the men's 400 free S12 with a strong 4:10.26 this evening. Spain's Enrique Floriano placed a distant second in 4:14.77, while Ukraine's Sergii Klippert snagged third in 4:17.12. Punko is a veteran of Paralympic competition, having first earned an international gold with a 400 free triumph at the 2004 Paralympics. He has a congenital progressive eye disability that certified him with an S12 status in 2002. In sum, Punko has now earned four Paralympic gold medals, with a total tally of 11 Paralympic medals. He won his first world title in 2006 with four victories that year in the 400 free, 100 breast, 200 IM and 5K open water events that year. He also claimed four silvers. In 2010, he won two more world titles in the 400 free and 5k open water events. Punko was named Swimming World's Disabled Swimmer of the Year in 2003.
Russia's Oxana Savchenko kept the women's 400 free S12 title in her country with a near-world record performance of 4:37.89. That swim came up shy of compatriot Anna Efimenko's global standard of 4:37.37 set at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, but was plenty good enough to earn Russia its second straight gold tonight. Great Britain's Hannah Russell, buoyed by a huge ovation from the London crowd, snared silver in 4:38.60, while Spain's Deborah Font completed the podium with a third-place 4:39.75. Defending champ Efimenko placed fourth in 4:51.29.
France's Charles Rozoy held off a Chinese trio with a powerful final 15 meters in the men's 100 fly S8 finale. He clocked a time of 1:01.24 for the victory, then celebrated like Cesar Cielo by riding the laneline and kissing his bicep. China's Wei Yanpeng placed a close second in 1:01.66, while teammate Song Maodang earned bronze with a 1:01.99. China's Wang Jiachao just missed the podium with a 1:02.00. Rozoy first broke onto the international Paralympic scene at the 2009 World Short Course Championships. He won this event there, as well as took bronzes in the 50 and 100 free. He also took bronze in the 100 fly S8 at the 2010 long course championships. Rozoy lost his arm in a motorcycle accident in July 2008, and returned to swimming with one arm in January 2009.
The United States jumped to the top of the podium for the first time this evening as Paralympic star Jessica Long demolished the Games record in the women's 100 fly S8 with a sterling 1:10.32. That performance blasted the 1:11.64 set by teammate Amanda Everlove at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. Long's time missed her global standard of 1:10.13 set in Winnipeg earlier this summer. Ukraine's Kateryna Istomina wound up with silver in 1:11.53, while China's Jiang Shengnan claimed bronze with a 1:13.28. Defending champion Everlove placed eighth in 1:18.56.
Long's win pushed her career Paralympic medal tally to 10, with eight of the gold variety. She won four golds in 2008, and three golds in 2004. She also picked up a silver and a bronze in 2008. Long became the first Paralympian to won the AAU's James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the U.S. in 2006, and she also won Swimming World's 2006 and 2011 Disabled Swimmer of the Year titles. This year, Long won an ESPY as the top Female Athlete with a Disability.
Great Britain's Jonathan Fox missed his prelim world record of 1:10.45 by the slimmest of margins with a triumphant time of 1:10.46 to secure the men's 100 back S7 triumph. Fox charged out early, then held on as Ukraine's Yevheniy Bohodayko turned on the afterburners down the stretch. Bohodayko snatched silver with a time of 1:11.31, while Croatia's Mihovil Spanja completed the podium with a bronze-winning outing of 1:12.53. The swim proved to be a crowd favorite with the packed stands erupting at the finish in support of Fox. Fox, who has cerebral palsy, has been swimming since the age of 11 as part of his therapy. He won the 2010 world title in this event as well, and was the silver medalist at the 2008 Paralympic Games.
Australia heard its national anthem for the first time after the women's 100 back S7 with a Paralympic Games mark of 1:22.84 from Jacqueline Freney. That performance eclipsed the previous standard of 1:24.30 set by compatriot Katrina Porter in 2008. Germany's Kirsten Bruhn, the world-record holder with a sterling 1:21.57 from April of this year, settled for silver with a 1:25.22. USA's Cortney Jordan rounded out the medal-winners with a 1:25.33.
Freney, who has been a standout in the Paralympic movement since winning three bronzes (50, 100, 400 free) in 2008, earned her first international title. She placed second in the 100 and 400 free events in 2010, and took four silvers and two bronzes at the 2009 short course championships. Bruhn, meanwhile, has been competing at the international level since 2004, where she took gold in the 100 breast SB5, a pair of silvers and a bronze. In total, she now has won 10 career Paralympic medals with her silver tonight. Bruhn moved into the Paralympic world as an athlete in 1991 when she was involved in a motorcycle accident ending in permanent damage to her spinal cord.
Defending champion Tamas Sors of Hungary captured the men's 100 fly S9 crown with a scorching effort of 59.54. That swim just missed Sors' world record of 59.23 set last summer, as well as his Games record of 59.34 to win the event in 2008. Australia's Matthew Cowdrey cleared 1:00 as well to win silver in 59.91, while Italy's Federico Morlacchi earned bronze in 1:00.77.
Sors now has four Paralympic medals on his resume, having won the 100 fly in 2008 and 2012, as well as taking bronze in the 100 and 400 free in 2008. He also won the 100 fly S9 event at the 2010 World Long Course Championships after first taking bronze in the event in 2006. He also captured the short course world title in 2009. Sors was born without a lower left arm. Cowdrey, meanwhile, now has a stunning 15 career Paralympic medals with his silver this evening. He has won eight golds, five silvers and two bronzes. Cowdrey, born with a congenital amputation below the elbow of his left arm, is one of the top Paralympians of all time. On top of his eight Paralympic golds, he also has won 11 world long course titles and seven world short course crowns.
South Africa's Natalie du Toit captured an incredible 11th Paralympic gold medal with a triumphant time of 1:09.30 in the women's 100 fly S9 finale. That gave her a third straight victory in the event's history. Du Toit became the first amputee to ever qualify for the Olympic Games when she competed in the 10K open water event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She lost her left leg below her knee in a scooter accident in February 2001. Du Toit is now 11-for-12 in Paralympic gold medal opportunities. Her only non-gold medal came with a silver-medal 100 back S9 finish in 2004.
Spain's Sarai Gascon placed second in the event with a 1:09.79 to set the European record in the event — her second career silver after a second-place 100 breast SB9 in 2008. USA's Elizabeth Stone downed the American record in the event with a bronze-winning 1:10.10. Stone also now has two career Paralympic medals after earning silver in the 100 back S9 in 2008. Australia's Ellie Cole set the Oceania record in the event with a fourth-place 1:10.40.
Canada's Benoit Huot clipped his world record in the men's 200 IM SM10 finale, then released a guttural shout of triumph after seeing his time on the scoreboard. Huot, who now has nine Paralympic gold medals dating back to a 50 free S10 victory in 2000, blasted the field with a scintillating time of 2:10.01. That swim bettered Huot's world record of 2:10.26 set in April this year in Montreal. Huot has now won the 200 IM SM10 event in three out of the last four Paralympics. He won in 2000, 2004 and took bronze in 2008. Incidentally, Huot's time smashed the previous Games record of 2:12.78 set by Australia's Rick Pendleton in 2008. Huot now has 17 career Paralympic medals. Brazil's Andre Brasil finished a distant second in 2:12.36, while Pendleton took third in 2:14.77.
New Zealand ascended to the top of the podium for the first time this evening as Sophie Pascoe obliterated her world record in the women's 200 IM SM10 event. She won by more than six seconds with a jaw-dropping time of 2:25.65. That swim demolished her previous world record of 2:29.35 set last August in Edmonton, and is the fastest Paralympics swim by nearly eight seconds. Jessica Sloan had held the previous Games standard with a 2:33.64 from Sydney back in 2000. Canada's Summer Mortimer turned in a silver-winning time of 2:32.08, which also surpassed the previous Games record, while China's Zhang Meng wound up third with an Asian record of 2:33.95.
Pascoe has now won four Paralympic golds, with a total tally of five medals including a silver in the 100 fly S10 in 2008. Tonight's win defended her victory in the event from 2008. Pascoe sustained her disability when she had her left leg amputated below the knee after an accident involving a lawnmower when she was just two years old.
Brazil's Daniel Dias crushed his previous world record in the men's 50 free S5 finale with a sterling time of 32.05. That performance eclipsed his previous mark of 32.27 set in Eindhoven in 2010. Dias had a stunning outing in 2008, where he captured nine Paralympic medals, including four golds. Tonight, he crossed into double digits overall, and now has five golds. He finished second in this event in 2008. Incidentally, Dias also lowered the Games record of 32.62 set by Spain's Sebastian Rodriguez in 2004. Rodriguez, meanwhile, won silver with a time of 33.44 for his 13th career Paralympic title, spanning back to a five gold-medal effort in 2000. USA's Roy Perkins finished third with a 33.69.
Ukraine's Natalia Prologaieva followed up Dias' scorcher with a world-record tying tally of 35.88 in the women's 50 free S5 finale. That swim matched the world and Games record of 35.88 set by Spain's Teresa Perales in 2008. Prologaieva is a relative newcomer to Paralympic swimming, first making a mark on the sport at the 2010 World Championships with four golds in the S5 and SM5 division. Perales, meanwhile, took silver in 36.50. Israel's Inbal Pezaro snared third-place honors with a 37.89.
China bookended the night as Du Jianping posted an Asian record time of 57.50 in the men's 50 breast SB2 division for the win. Mexico's Arnulfo Castorena, the reigning world-record holder set at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, took second in 58.23. Ukraine's Dmytro Vynohradets earned third in 58.51, a European record.