ParalympicsGB collected a first judo gold of the Tokyo Games, with Chris Skelley triumphing in the men’s B2 -100kg event, and Britain’s rowers were also on top of the podium for first time, with victories in the PR2 mixed double sculls and the PR3 mixed coxed four.
The Grade IV dressage team also triumphed at the Tokyo Equestrian Park, with the trio of Lee Pearson, Natasha Baker and Sophie Wells adding to their medals from the individual events.
The 28-year-old Skelley came into the Games as the No 1 in the world and lived up to that billing with a narrow win over the USA’s Ben Goodrich in an attritional gold medal match.
“It’s been a long road for the last 11 years. It was hard after Rio,” said Skelley, who finished fifth in the 2016 Games. “It’s put a big target on my back, so I needed to get here and train even harder to stay where I am.”
Skelley’s eyesight began to deteriorate when he was 17, forcing him to stop playing rugby and leave his job as an apprentice car mechanic. He was eventually diagnosed with oculocutaneous albinism.
“Eleven years ago, I was at the darkest part of my life because there was nothing left for me. The only thing that was left was my judo. To have that come true today, I can’t believe it.”
“That was the darkest part. Working towards it and having it just whisked away. I never expected to do this as a job. It’s my hobby. I love it because I love judo. And to stand here and talk to you now as a Paralympic champion … I’m lost for words. I just want a pork pie.”
Lauren Rowles and Laurence Whiteley grabbed Britain’s first rowing medal of the regatta in the mixed double sculls, coming home almost five seconds ahead of the Netherlands in second place, with China taking bronze. That was swiftly followed by gold for the British quartet of Ellen Buttrick, Giedre Rakauskaite, James Fox and Ollie Stanhope, plus cox Erin Kennedy, who were imperious in the mixed coxed four, finishing more than 11 seconds ahead of second-placed USA, with France rounding out the podium.
“That’s 11 years unbeaten now,” said Fox, now a double Paralympic champion. “We are incredibly tough on ourselves, we are always pushing the standards, complacency is not an option for us. We’re always pushing the pace, it’s why we can go out there and do races like that.”
The dressage team surpassed expectations, taking gold despite the team being on largely inexperienced horses. “I don’t think any of us expected that in a million, trillion, gazillion years to be honest with you,” said Baker, who added gold to her silver in the individual event. “We’re all just so immensely proud of everything that our horses have done these last few days, and the way that they’ve dealt with it. They’ve been such professionals. We were hoping to come and maybe challenge for a bronze medal.”
There were also more medals in the pool for ParalympicsGB. Louise Fiddes picked up a silver in the women’s SB14 100m breaststroke, 17-year-old Ellie Challis matched that feat in the women’s S3 50m backstroke, and Scott Quin took bronze in the men’s SB14 100m breaststroke.
There was another fencing silver on the piste, with the GB men’s wheelchair foil team narrowly missing out to China in the gold medal match.