Today saw three teams within the British Armed Forces Team compete; the Rowing Team, the Cycling Team and the Wheelchair Basketball Team.
First up, the Rowing Team, who had an exceptional day securing 14 medals in their indoor rowing races, which were held at Here East in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Over multiple races rowers of different classes competed against each other with the mission to row the farthest distance in an endurance challenge over four minutes and a sprint event over one minute. Those who placed in the first races had to wait to see if the opposition in their category could beat their distances.
In the Men’s IR4 category veteran Army Captain and London 2012 Paralympic rower Nick Beighton was up first, and led from the front setting an impressive distance for others to chase - 1127m. The other competitors did their best, but no one could come close to Nick’s distance, and he claimed the gold. Nick’s closest rival was teammate Scott Meenagh who finished in second to take silver. Scott, said: “It’s great to get a silver medal. The competition’s very serious. We’re here to win then once the final buzzer goes we’re all friends again.”
In the Men’s IR5 Ray Lowrie was up first, setting a distance to beat of 1240m. It turned out to be good enough for silver as British teammate Jordan Beecher steamed ahead to take gold at 1257m. Kieran David Wood, 26 from Preston, held his own in the Men’s IR3 to claim a bronze behind competitors from France and the USA.
In the Women’s IR4 category British Team member Anna Kelton powered to gold. With no other rowers in her category, her performance percentage had to be compared to another class to establish whether she would take a medal, which she did – gold!
The Sprint races heavily reflected the endurance round with Jordan Beecher and Ray Lowrie again claiming gold and silver respectively in the Men’s IR5 category. Anna again got the gold in the Women’s IR4 category, with Samantha Livy taking the gold in the Women’s IR5 race.
It was a British team 1, 2, 3 in the Men’s IR4 sprint which saw Nick Beighton and Scott Meenagh gain their second gold and silver medals, while Army Lieutenant Corporal Cowan Botha who just missed out on a medal in fourth place in the endurance claimed a bronze this time round.
The British team’s medals – seven gold, four silver and two bronze – put them at the top of the team averages to claim the gold with a percentage score of more than 158% making a total of 14 indoor rowing medals; an amazing effort from our British rowing heroes.
Also up today was our Cycling Team, who peddled to victory claiming 28 medals in the Time Trial and Criterion races.
In the time trial events, medals were won in most categories with 14 members of the British team placing first, second or third. Rob Cromey-Hawke started the winning streak with his gold finishing three seconds ahead of rival Matt Hammond from the USA in the Recumbent Bike IRecB1, backed up by JJ Chalmers who came in third for a bronze. Jaco Van Gass and Terry Byrne followed the same pattern in the Road Bike IRB2 claiming gold and bronze respectively.
Joe Townsend followed up his four gold medals from the athletics track with a bronze in the Hand Bike IHB2, coming in behind teammate Steve Arnold who gained silver. It was a GBR first and second for Andrew Perrin and Adam Clarke in the Road Bike IRB3 and shortly after Josh Boggi got a bronze in the Hand Bike IHB1. Craig Preece and Andy Kelsey finished off the men’s time trials in style with another gold and silver.
In the women’s time trials Jo Morris scooped a bronze in the Road Bike IRB3. Kelly Robinson and Claire Edwards followed that up with a silver and bronze, with Kelly just missing out on the gold by 0.13 seconds, to complete the time trials and pave the way for the next stage.
In the first circuit race of the day, the Recumbent 1RecB1, Rob Cromey-Hawke, JJ Chalmers and Paul Vice proved camaraderie is still rife among the British Armed Forces team as they opted to bring home the gold, silver and bronze by crossing the finish line together. Team tactics came into play to help them gain the lead and by the time they finished they were almost two minutes ahead of the nearest cyclist. Although their classification states Rob claimed the gold ahead of JJ and Paul, in reality the 0.02 second split means nothing.
Rob Cromey-Hawke, who also won gold in the time trial, said: “I feel amazing. It was a great experience and working as a team for the road race felt really good to know that we could have a one, two, three team GB. We talked about it before and said wouldn’t it be great if…? We started to plan and went hard in the first few laps trying to break the field and then we settled into a comfortable rhythm all working equally taking turns on the front. Nearing the end Vicey (Paul Vice) said ‘shall we do what we said and come in together?’ and we all agreed. We just wanted to showcase the Invictus spirit and we felt this was the best way of doing so.”
Jaco Van Gass gained a second gold in the Road Bike IRB2 with Terry Byrne upgrading his bronze from the time trial to silver. Joe Townsend did the same and moved from a bronze in the time trial to silver in the circuit while Steve Arnold got the bronze in the Hand Bike IHB2.
Andrew Perrin got his second gold in the Road Bike IRB3 and Adam Clarke got a bronze to go with his time trial silver. Craig Preece and Andy Kelsey did a GBR one two again in the Road Bike IRB1 while Kelly Robinson and Claire Edwards gained the silver and bronze in the Handbike/Recumbent IRecB1 to finish the circuit event in the same way as they did the time trial.
Our British Team’s total medal count was an immense 8 gold, 10 silver and 10 bronze! Well done team!
The other team up today was our Wheelchair Basketball team, who had four matches to play at the Copper Box, the venue of last night’s Wheelchair Rugby matches so the team knew that the atmosphere was going to electric!
Up first, our team faced Australia. After a slightly slow start with Australia scoring first, our guys rallied, built up momentum and ended with a win 20-5.
The second group match was against France, and winning this would put them into the Semi’s so, the pressure was on! Going out strong, our team were the first to put points on the board taking the score to 4-0. A free throw netted France a point but Team captain Adam Nixon responded and made the score 6-1, which is how the first half ended. An early point from Chris Attis in the second half made it 7-1. GBR’s goals just kept on coming with Gareth Golightly netting two impressive baskets in the final minute to make the final score 17 – 1, putting the British Team through to the semi -finals.
With just one match between our team and the finals, our team knew they needed to go our hard and build momentum from the start. Unfortunately, Denmark managed to get the first points on the board, but wonder-boy Chris Attis managed secure a free-throw point, quickly followed by a basket to make the score 3-1 in our favour. Both teams played some good defence and everyone worked hard to get points on the board, with the score slowly creeping up to 5-4 and then to 7-6. Our guys know that they want to end the first half with a good lead, and thankfully they manage to fight to get the score to 10-6 in their favour. In the second half, Andy Roberts finds a hole in Denmark’s defence to make the score 12-6, but then Denmark respond after a free throw and build momentum getting a basket quickly after making the score 12-9. Charlie Walker extends the lead to 14-11 with a great play, which is how the match ends and with it the Team secured their place in final against the USA.
There is a few hours downtime before the Gold-medal match, and everyone is talking about the showdown that will take place between GB and the USA. Our guys know that after their defeat last night, the USA will be hungry to get a gold and, as a country, are known for being amazing at Basketball.
However, we have something that they don’t – home advantage, and the biggest team-heart that I have ever seen. Scott – our Coach – gathers the guys together to give them one final pep talk, to prepare them for the match. Scott really does have a way with words and knows just the right way to motivate his team, and you can see that he inspires them and infuses them with passion. As he is talking you can feel the atmosphere change; the guys are up for this, they are ready.
Match time comes quickly, and the team decide that they have to go out, give everything that they have and leave it all on the court; nothing else will be good enough. The moment that the team wheeled out of the holding area and into the arena is one that will live with me forever – the crowd erupted in euphoric screams of encouragement; you could tell that they were up for this too! Our guys and girls stayed in the zone and weren’t fazed by the noise. If anything, it just spurred them on even more.
Wonder-boy Chris Attis was the first person to put 2 points on the board, after 1m15s for the British Team but the USA respond quickly to tie the scoreline at 2-2. Then, the USA manage to get another two points, and take the lead. However, not fazed, the British Team stay strong and play their game, on their court in front of their home crowd. The hard work paid off as Chris sinks a beautiful basket to level the score at 4-4. Moments later, he gains free throw – there are two points on offer and he claims them both, taking the British Team into the lead 6-4 up. Amazingly, Chris then gets yet another basket 8-6 to us; he was on fire! Charlie Walker – who already won gold last night with the Rugby – sinks a free throw, and scores us another point, swiftly followed by Team Captain Adam and then another chance comes to Charlie, which he takes with both hands, sinking a basket a claiming another two points. A fast a furious first half comes to an end with the score standing at 13-6, our guys are looking good!
The second half starts with both teams working their defensive lines and no one is finding the basket, this continues until there is just three minutes left on the clock when suddenly the insanely amazing Chris makes two quick baskets bumping the score the 17-6. The USA answer with a basket of their own, but it won’t be enough to claim the gold as the British Team’s Lee Matthews sinks a basket, netting another two points, making the final score 19-9 to the British Team.
As the buzzer sounds the Copper Box erupts and all anyone can hear is cheers of jubilation and triumph. The team go wild and I am sure that I can see tears of joy on some of their faces! Something that Coach Scott said early pops into my head in that moment, and I can’t help but think how very true it is: “You each carry the spirit of everything that you have done in recovery onto the court…”
He is right, each of them have battled through some of the hardest things that any human being will have to face and have come out on the other side triumphant and victorious. It is that refusal to never, ever give in, to keep on going when the chips are down and their bodies hurt and to always believe that there are better days ahead that went onto the court with them tonight. It is that fighting spirit – that Spartan spirit – that they carry within themselves that carried them to glory.