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Gold and Two Silver Medals for GB Deaf Athletes

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GB Deaf Team

With the last minute withdrawer of World Deaf Hammer record holder Joanne Davison, Great Britain team was left with 9 athletes to travel to Sofia, Bulgaria for the 7th European Athletics Championships of the Deaf from 7-14th July.


The Championships started with John Ruddy running in the 100m semi final.  Ruddy was making his international debut, so naturally he was nervous, but performed to the best of his abilities.  Drawn next to the more experienced Rafal Sliwka of Poland, Ruddy fought all the way through the finishing line, only to miss out on a place in the final by a fraction of a second.  It was exactly the same situation for Nelson Bolumbu in the 3rd Semi Finals.  With only the first 2 finishers plus the fastest 2 losers qualifying for the final, they both agonisingly finished 4th.     


Deaflympics 800m Champion and World Junior Record Holder Lauren Peffers and defending champion Candy Hawkins were our first ladies to compete in the 1,500m Final.  Unfortunately, their race was at the peak of the scorching heat.  Half way through the 1500m, Hawkins found the heat too much to handle and dropped out.  Peffers bravely continued to keep up with the leader Nelli Erofeeva, the Russian Deaflympics 1500m champion, only to collapse with less than 150m away from a possible Gold or Silver medal, with her nearest 3rd athlete about 80m behind them. 


“I felt really confident going into the race. I was determined to improve from my 2004 Silver medal at the last European championship, but coming from the rain and almost freezing temperature in Scotland to race in near 40 degree temperature was a major drawback.  Suddenly, I felt dehydrated, very hot and all I remembered was my legs going at 110m to go.  I am really disappointed about this” Says Peffers.


With both our gold medal favourites collapsing, it was left to Beth Sewell to cheer up the team. Sewell did not disappoint. Under pressure from the same very high and dry temperature, she proved why she was ranked 2nd in Europe in the Hammer.  Her performance was so consistence that she would have swept up the medal boards if more than 1 medal could be given for final ranking positions. Sewell smashed her PB and broke the Championships Hammer record in claiming the Gold medal with a throw of 43.33m which was a massive 4m ahead of second placed Rymma Flimoshkna of Ukraine (39.63m). 


“Having been out of international competitions for the last 4 years partyly due to lack of funding, I was determined to do well.  In the lead up to the Europeans, I had problems with my lower back which meant I couldn’t do weight training or throw a 4kg Hammer properly for some weeks before the Championships.  However I felt confident because with the help of the physiotherapist and a good coach Lorraine Shaw, I was still throwing over 41m consistently and  I knew that if I performed to the best of my abilities, it would be difficult for any deaf girl in Europe to beat me.  I am really excited about this win and hope that it will encourage more deaf youngsters to take up the Hammer and encourage prospective sponsorship for deaf athletes” comments Sewell.

With team spirit now high, it was down to the guys to do their best.  This time, it was in the 200m semi finals.  Ruddy, Bolumbu and Jason Steadman were our representatives.  Like the 100m, only the top 2 finishers gained automatic places in the final along with the 2 fastest losers. 


“Despite running a new PB, I am really disappointed to just miss out on a place in the finals” says Ruddy on behalf of Bolumbu and Steadman who again missed the opportunity to race for medals by a fraction of a hairline!


Following the disappointment of the lads, it was now down to Peffers, the defending 800m champion to put smiles back on the faces of Team GB.  Prior to her race, we all prayed for rain and for the temperature to drop to suit our girls and to prevent another tragedy!  Peffers and Hawkins had to race in the 800m semis.  They both qualified easily for the final which took place the following day and for the first time in weeks, there was a heavy downpour which answered our prayers and for it to happen just before Peffers and Hawkins race gave us confidence that we will definitely take home a medal.


“I felt really strange. Just a moment earlier, it was boiling hot, and then suddenly before the race, it started pouring.  It was like having a hot shower!” remembers Hawkins.  “I still found the now humid condition rather heavy and really tough to handle.  With 300m to go, my body could not cope with the temperature.” Continued Hawkins.  “I have rarely dropped out of races.  I am gutted and it all reminded me of how Paula radcliffe had felt in Athens.”


As usual, Peffers lead the 800m field from the start and it appears she had started her hard work too early when she had nothing left towards the end of the race as she was over taken by the more experienced 1500m champion, Erofeeva in the dying metres of the race.  Peffers managed to beat the heat this time and held on to grab the silver medal.


“Its not since the Melbourne 2005 Deaflympics have I had to run in such extreme heat.  With having difficulties to get time off work for warm weather training and without being able to arrive early in Sofia, I knew it was a big gamble to compete without warm weather training.  I am very disappointed not to have finished both the 800m and 1500m.  I am pleased though with the performances of my fellow athletes.” Sums up Hawkins.  “I was really gutted about collapsing with the finishing line in sight.  It has never happened to me before and I have never failed to finish a race.  The weather had been a major problem all week.  I was determined it wouldn’t happen to me again in the 800m final and did all I could to stay away from the sun, drink a lot of fluid and kept cool prior to the race.  Considering these awkward conditions, I am pleased with the silver medal.” Added Peffers.


Douglas Rathey, the 800m World Junior Record Holder did not have good championships.  He was struggling not just with the heat, but with running itself as he came with slight injuries.  He managed to finish 6th in the 400m semi and could not finish the 800m.  Sadly, he saw his WJR snatched off him by the new German youngster Daniel Helmis (19, 1:57.08) who went almost 2 seconds quicker than Rathey’s 2006 record of 1:59.0.  The Spanish full time deaf athlete Javier Soto Ray did the double winning the 800m and 1500m.


If medal could be given for bravery in these championships, it would have easily gone to 17 year old Philip Swift who despite his inexperience over 5000m, did all he could to finish the race in the oven-like heat.  Fortunately, he brought the rain with him at the start of his race!  Whilst this helped to reduce the heat, it made the conditions very slippery as the race became waterlogged and his running shoes filled with water.  With the lap counter not very visible, Swift came to a halt when he thought he was finished, only to be told he had one more lap to go.  Rather than collapse and complain, Swift got himself re-motivated and finished the course.  Many other runners, who endured similar faith, did not manage to get the extra energy to go the distance.  Swift the youngest athlete in the field (if not in the championships) finished a credible 10th place out of 13 runners.


With 2 medals in the GB cabinet, it was left to Javelin thrower, Colette Doran to add to this on the last day.  Although she has been off for more than half of the year with elbow injury, she still felt her training was sufficient to get her in the medal podium.  This she achieved with a throw that was well below her PB. Her last throw (37.56m) was her furtherest and it brought her the Silver medal behind the winner Kairit Olenko of Estonia who threw a massive 43.22m for Gold.  “I am almost back to the standard that I was before I got injured last year.  I am hoping that I can continue to stay injury free and work harder ready for the 1st World Deaf Athletics Championships to be held in Venezuela in September 2008. I was aiming for 40 plus throws rather than medals; however I am still happy with the silver as I was worried that I might not be included in the team due to earlier injuries.”  Says Doran.


“I am extremely proud of our team performances in Sofia.  Having our top Hammer thrower withdraw with emergency operation a few days before we departed was a big blow to the team morals.  We knew it would be hot in Sofia, but not this hot.  If we had the funding, we would have liked to do warm weather training earlier in the year and arrive a week before the Championships to acclimatise.  Many PBs were achieved and the future looks promising if we continue to nurture the talents we have and invest in identifying new talents.  We just held on to finish 10th from 17 countries in the medal tables.  Our target is to finish in the top 7 in the medals in forthcoming events.  Big congratulations to all who represented GB at these championships.” Comments Deaf UK Athletics Director and GB Deaf Team Manager, Brian Kokoruwe.