National records and personal bests fell as New Zealand's para cyclists took to the Izu Velodrome on the opening day of competition at the Paralympic Games yesterday.
Former Waitomo guide Nicole Murray came ever so close to a podium finish, riding for bronze and finishing fourth in the C5 women’s 3000m individual pursuit, in her first Paralympic experience.
It proved a remarkable opening day at the Izu Velodrome with seven world records through the opening day of competition, and while the New Zealand women’s trio produced some slick times, they could not match the record-setting displays.
Auckland’s Sarah Ellington had a significant challenge as a C2 para-athlete, the result of a spinal cord injury, competing against competitors in C1 and C3 categories without any factoring applied.
Ellington is the national record holder in C2 with her 4:16.368 effort at the New Zealand championships earlier this year.
She smashed that mark with a superb performance of 4:12.506 which was third fastest of the C2 category riders but all eight of the C3 category athletes went faster. That included a world record by top qualifier Paige Greco of Australia of 3:52.283 to evidence the category advantage.
Cambridge rider Anna Taylor, a C4 Para Cyclist who suffers from Cauda Equina syndrome, celebrated her first Paralympic competition when she bettered her own New Zealand record in the 3000m individual pursuit. She clocked 3:54.167 to take half a second off the mark she set in New Zealand in February.
However, she finished fifth fastest in qualifying with the top four going through to the medal rides.
Ironically fellow Paralympic debutante Murray finished outside her own New Zealand record in the C5 category 3000m individual pursuit qualifying but her time of 3:45.010 was fourth fastest to earn her a place in the bronze medal ride.
Murray was in the final pairing in qualifying, and drew the most celebrated Para cyclist of all time, in 14-time gold medallist Dame Sarah Storey who broke the world record in the process.
With only two hours of recovery, Murray faced the bronze medal showdown against experienced Frenchwoman Marie Patouillet who had qualified seven seconds faster than the kiwi.
But Murray dug deep, clawing back an early half second deficit to be a blink off taking the lead at the 2000m mark before Patouillet used all her experience to edge away to claim the bronze medal. Murray, to her credit, was one of the few riders to go faster than her qualifying effort.
“I was really pleased with Sarah’s performance and such a good personal best in what is not her key event. She will take confidence from this as we look towards her main aim on the road,” said head coach, Stu MacDonald.
“It was a big occasion for Nicole and Anna, their first time in this level of competition and they will be all the better for this experience. They both showed strong performances and I am sure they will learn from it for the rest of this competition and will form a key part of their learning towards Paris.”
Murray and Taylor have a day’s rest before returning to the historic boards at Izu Velodrome on Friday for the 500m time trial.