Rachael Burrows competed in the T34 women's 100 m final Friday evening at Olympic Stadium in London. Photo: Ian Ewing
By Dan Plouffe
LONDON -- One day into her Paralympic career and Rachael Burrows has already raced in front of a total of 160,000 people. The Ottawa Lions wheelchair racer qualified for the final of the women’s T34 100 m on Friday morning at a packed Olympic stadium in London and then got to race for the medals in the evening.
“I’d raced in front of a couple thousand, but nothing like this,” Burrows said. “This is quite the experience.”
As much as the 29-year-old was trying to keep her mind on the task at hand at the start line, it was impossible to ignore the roar that went up for eventual gold medalist and Paralympics record setter Hannah Cockroft when she was introduced.
“I was just trying to stay calm,” noted Burrows, who finished eighth in a time of 22.59 seconds behind Cockroft’s winning 18.06. “I had the girl from Great Britain right next to me. I just tried to ignore when they screamed. It was a lot of people to race in front of.”
Under the bright lights in her first Paralympic Games, Burrows was pleased with her performance in both races, following.
“My goal was to go a little bit faster than this morning, but it was still pretty close,” added the Barrie, Ont. native who moved to Ottawa to train in advance of the Games. “I’m pretty happy with it.”
The athlete who’s sporting stylish red patches dyed throughout her hair was even more thrilled to see Canadian teammate Virginia McLachlan win bronze in two races later in the T35 women’s 200 m.
“Our team is very strong and our coaches are always looking out for us,” Burrows highlighted. “I’m very happy having the support we have.”
Burrows will now prepare for the 200 m event Thursday.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Burrows noted. “I like my 200. I’m hoping that I’ll at least get a decent time. I really want a PB, but I’ve had a lot of PBs this year.
Dunkerley through to 1,500 semis
Jason Dunkerley and guide Josh Karanja of Ottawa put in a solid first race of their Paralympics in the Friday morning T11 men’s 1,500 m semi-finals, cruising in for a comfortable second-place finish in a time of 4:13.67 – 1.99 seconds clear of the third-place runner to earn an automatic qualifier position for Monday’s final.
“I’m delighted with the run,” said Dunkerley, who only arrived in London on Monday. “It’s been a bit of a rush getting ready. I will be glad for a weekend of rest before the final. I think I did about 4:13, which isn’t particularly good for me but I will take it for today. I’ll come out strong for the final.”
Dunkerley, who is visually-impaired, is a three-time Paralympic medalist in the 1,500 m, while it was Karanja’s first appearance at a Paralympics.
Cassidy misses 5,000 final
Fellow Ottawa Lions athlete Josh Cassidy wasn’t able to follow suit in the first round of the T54 men’s 5,000 m. Ranked second in his heat, the Ottawa-born wheelchair racer was in a slow-paced heat and wound up unable to match three competitors in the sprint to the finish.
Despite finishing only .2 seconds behind the third-place finisher in 11:32.47, the other heats were faster and he was far away from the cut-off mark for those moving forward with the best times.
“I’m usually a guy for words, but right now I don’t have many,” Cassidy said. “It’s the way racing goes. Do this race again back-to-back and it’d be a totally different result.”
Cassidy was a definite medal contender in the 5,000 m discipline along with Switzerland’s Marcel Hug, who placed first in the same heat.
“The race was really slow, which was not my preference,” Cassidy added. “I was expecting me and (Hug) to get away from the start, but it didn’t happen like that. You’ve got to adjust. I played most of it not trying to get caught up in it, but I probably spent more energy doing it.”
Blair & Schloss kick off Paralympics
Two other Ottawa athletes also make their Paralympic debuts Friday.
David Blair’s Canadian LTA Mixed Coxed Four rowing team finished third in their heat behind world-champion Great Britain and the U.S. They’ll race in the repechage round Saturday in search of a last-chance place in Sunday’s A final.
Equestrian Jody Schloss placed 12th in the Grade 1a team test event aboard her horse, Inspector Rebus, in individual dressage. Her ride in Sunday’s individual championship test will also count towards the team competition standings.