Southland pair win Paralympic gold

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 06:30 03/09/2012

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Southland Paralympic cyclists Phillipa Gray and Laura Thompson have won gold in the individual B pursuit after pulverising the former world record by nearly 5sec in their qualification ride.

The duo, who won bronze in the time trial over the weekend, now own the record that had stood since 2009 with a new time of 3:31.50, from 3:36.362 and the old Paralympic record which had stayed put since Athens in 2004.

It's New Zealand's first gold on the track in 2012 and the country's first ever gold in the tandem discipline. 

Their Irish opponents, who are the current world champions, could only manage 3:36.66.

"It's pretty heavy [the medal], it's definitely a better colour than bronze and it just feels amazing, I don't even think it's sunk in yet," Gray announced minutes after the medal ceremony. 

"The world record [which they set earlier in the day] doesn't even feel real yet, nothing feels real, it's just a dream."

Seeing the country's flag hoisted high in the velodrome was something Gray says she'll never forget, and now she has a taste, she wants more in the future.

"It's pretty special, a feeling you do want to replicate and keep trying to achieve as well," Gray said.

Thompson felt like it was a fitting reward for some long hours on the bike.

"You talk about it so much, for like six months we've been talking about it, saying if we do this, if we do that we've got potential to get the gold medal, so it's really nice to actually cross that line and done it, done the work and got the result."  

Gray cheered as she crossed the finishing line to claim a bronze medal two days ago, but there was little said between the two when they crossed that same line today.

Their first emotion was a feeling of exhaustion.

''You don't really have much to let out," Thompson said as she perched next to the cold brick wall to try and cool herself.

''Those were two pretty hard rides today."

The quick turnaround from their qualification to the final left little time for anything bar the bare essentials.

"By the time you did your warm down, did your ice bath, massage, ate lunch, it was pretty much time to come back to the track again," she said.

Racing overnight Friday in London, Gray and pilot rider Thompson claimed bronze in the Women's B 1km time trial.

The tandem pair finished just two hundredths of a second ahead of the fourth-placed pair from Great Britain, and behind two dominant crews.

Australia claimed gold in 1:08.91, Great Britain snared silver in 1:09.46 with Gray and Thompson bronze in 1:11.24.

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The pair were set to ride the medal rounds in their favoured 3000m pursuit event early this morning, with hopes of adding to their tally.

"It's our favourite event and it's the one we've been training pretty solidly for," Gray said. "There will be four tandems that are in contention for it and we are going to have to pull something pretty amazing out of the bag to be up there for the gold medal ride."

New Zealand coach Brendon Cameron opted for a bigger gear for the time trial and it paid dividends over the second half of the race.

"It's definitely not our strongest event, we do start quite slow compared with the other tandems but we knew we were strong enough over the longer distance," Gray said.

"The last 500m was pretty key for us to drive it home and we managed to pull it off."

Thompson, who switched from basketball to cycling before joining forces with Gray, said the support the pair had received along the way had been a key to their success.

"Invercargill is an awesome place to be an athlete. The network of people down there at Cycling Southland and the extended (community) is so good and they are so supportive. They've been really good along the way." Check southlandtimes.co.nz to follow the progress of Phillipa Gray and Laura Thompson at the London Paralympics.

- The Southland Times

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