Posted on Wednesday 25th August, 2021

– Nicole Murray rides off for bronze, finishing 4th

– Anna Taylor breaks Paralympic Record during qualification

Tokyo, 25 August 2021

Highlights from Tokyo today:

  • Para cyclists Nicole Murray and Anna Taylor signal their medal ambitions
  • 11 New Zealand Para athletes made their Paralympic debut at Tokyo 2020
  • Wheel Blacks compete at the Paralympic Games for the first time since 2008
  • Barney Koneferenisi scores 23 of the Wheel Blacks 35 points against the USA
  • Sophie Pascoe gets ready for her first event on Thursday from 1.30pm NZT

Day 1 for the New Zealand Paralympic Team, and 12 Paralympians were in action across the pool, the Velodrome and in Wheelchair rugby. Para swimmer Jesse Reynolds was the first off the blocks, competing in the Men’s 400m Freestyle S9 heats, followed by our Para cycling trio Sarah Ellington, Anna Taylor and Nicole Murray. The latter two had sterling debuts on the Paralympic stage with Taylor setting a Paralympic Record in qualifying and Murray competing for the bronze in the Women’s 3000m Individual Pursuit, C4 and C5 classifications respectively. The day was rounded out by a courageous effort from the Wheel Blacks Wheelchair rugby team, who took on world number 2 USA in the first Pool B game, with Great Britain and Canada later this week.

The New Zealand Paralympic Team woke in good spirits this morning to a hot Tokyo day, after joining together in their sport bubbles outside the residential buildings in the Paralympic Athlete Village to celebrate the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony.

Para swimming

Jesse Reynolds (Paralympian #205) was the first Kiwi to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games today, taking to the pool in the Men’s 400m Freestyle S9 heat 2. Reynolds did not qualify for the finals, finishing in 4:30:34, 16.08 seconds adrift of the leader. Reynolds said:

“That felt good. I’m a little bit out of practice with the 400 (metre), so my race plan didn’t quite come through. But energy-wise was good, nerves before the race was good. Just went through all the processes and stuff and feeling really excited for the 100 back (stroke) now.“

A Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games veteran, Reynolds has a limb deficiency and swims in the S9 classification. He will competed in Freestyle, Backstroke, Butterfly and the Men’s 200m Individual Medley in Tokyo, chasing his first ever Paralympic medal.

Injuries affected his run up to Rio 2016, with two consecutive leg breaks, so Reynolds sees Tokyo 2020 as a moment for medal redemption. He said pre-Paralympics that he felt “in the form of his life.“

Para cycling – track

– Sarah Ellington

Over in the Velodrome, Sarah Ellington was the first of our trio of Day 1 riders out on track today, finishing 11th in the Women’s C1-3 3000m Individual Pursuit. Ellington set a time of 4:12.506. Australia’s Paige Greco took the gold in a World Record time of 3:50.815, followed by Xiaomei Wang (China) in the silver medal position, with Denise Schindler (Germany) taking home bronze.

Ellington had the honour, today, of being the first of 18 Para athletes debuting amongst the 31-strong New Zealand Paralympic Team. She will be out on the road next week, competing in the Women’s C1-3 Time Trial on Day 7 and the Women’s C1-3 Road Race on Day 10 of competition.

Ellington has an acquired impairment, after sustaining a spinal cord injury falling out of a tree in 2015. Her impairment, incomplete paraplegia, has resulted in weak leg muscles and restricted ankle movement, and she had to learn to walk again. She competes in the C2 classification.

– Anna Taylor

Fellow debutant, Anna Taylor, rode an outstanding Paralympic Record in qualifying, setting a very fast time of 3:54.167 in the Women’s C4 3000m Individual Pursuit. But such was the quality of the competition, including a World Record later in the set, Taylor finished in 5th position without riding off for a medal. The four riders ahead of her battled it out in the final, with another Australian, Emily Petricola, taking home gold in a World Record time of 3:38.061, followed by Shawn Morelli (USA) and Keely Shaw (Canada) in silver and bronze. Aussie Meg Lemon finished off the podium.

Taylor said: “It was surreal to get to the Velodrome this morning and so humbling. This a moment I have been waiting for what feels like my entire life. I was so excited to get into the gates. The race was like a blur really lots of adrenaline and excitement for me. Ï enjoyed knowing I had broken the Paralympic record, even if only for a short time. I’m looking forward to my races that I will have in the coming days.

A former able-bodied rower, Taylor rides in the C4 classification after sustaining a prolapsed disc in 2016, which compressed her spinal cord and resulted in Acute Cauda Equina Syndrome. She has a loss of muscle power as a result. Having already survived thyroid cancer back in 2011, Taylor took this newest challenge in her stride, and began Para cycling in early 2018.

Taylor will be back on track on Day 3 in the Women’s C4-5 500m Time Trial, before moving to the road on Day 3 for the Women’s C4 Time Trial and Day 9 for the Women’s C4-5 Road Race.

– Nicole Murray

Nicole Murray had an outstanding qualifying round against Great Britain’s Dame Sarah Storey, the current Rio 2016 Paralympic champion, in the Women’s C5 3000m Individual Pursuit. Despite the international stature of her competitor, who set a World Record time to qualify for the gold medal ride-off, debutant Murray’s time of 3:45.010 took her straight into the ride-off for the bronze.

Murray then took on Marie Patouillet of France for the bronze medal, holding the gap to less than half a second for more than 2700m, before Frenchwomen put the foot down on the last lap and crossed the line in a time of 3:39.233, 5.2 seconds ahead of Murray in 4th. Dame Sarah Storey (Great Britain) went on to win the event, with British compatriot Crystal Lane-Wright taking silver.  

Murray said: “To be the velodrome at my first Paralympic Games was amazing, to know that all the hard work had paid off to make it here. There was some very tough competition today including riding against the World Record holder in my first race. In the bronze medal ride off I was in a good headspace in terms of nerves. I was happy that I achieved the goals my coach and I had set keeping splits consistent up to the last 4 laps when I just did not have that extra bit in my legs.

Murray has a limb deficiency (left wrist), so rides with adaptations to her handlebars of her bike. Her impairment is an acquired one, following a lawnmower accident at the age of just 5. She will be back on the track on Day 3, in the Women’s C4-5 500m Time Trial, before heading out to the road for the Women’s C5 Time Trial on Day 7 and then Women’s C4-5 Road Race on Day 9.

Wheelchair rugby

The Wheel Blacks returned to Paralympic Games competition for the first time since 2008 today, falling 63-35 to World Number 2, USA, in their first match in Pool B. They will take on Great Britain tomorrow (Day 2) and Canada on Friday (Day 3), to determine progression into the semi-finals.

Following a stirring Haka led by Haydon Barton-Cootes, the team took to the court with an intent to make their mark early. In a game often called “Murder Ball“, physicality and strength can be key. Barney Koneferenisi had an exceptional game, bashing his way through to score 23 tries for the team, with Tainafi Lefono, captain Cody Everson and Barton-Cootes making up the balance. The USA defence was strong, thwarting a number of attempts to push through across the line. The Wheel Blacks were upbeat following the game, their first international match since 2019:

Wheel Blacks captain Cody Everson said:

“This is the first time the Wheel Blacks have been at the Paralympics in 13 years, so its pretty exciting. We knew going into playing USA it was going to be a really tough game and they were going to bring it. We thought we could handle the pressure at the start, and I think we found it a bit tough getting back into international rugby, but, as the game went on I think there were some really good patches and unfortunately, the score blew out.

But for us we are going to take a lot of learnings and we’re going to keep pushing forward and, take a lot of positives out of this too. We did some really good stuff. So, I hope the boys don’t put their heads down too much because we were really good in some patches and we are going to improve. Like I say, we are just really happy to be here, competing for New Zealand.“

Barney Koneferenisi, today’s top try scorer with 23 points, said:

“I’m super proud, super happy, but the tries aren’t really an individual thing. I would not have got them if my teammates hadn’t set me up. They’re team tries – that’s the why I like to look at it.

“Great Britain will be another good fight. One thing we picked up from this game is that, no matter what the score, you’ve got to keep your held high. Good communication and positivity are always key.“

Koneferenisi has not competed internationally since the 2014 Wheelchair Rugby World Championships in Denmark.

Greg Mitchell, Wheel Blacks coach said:

“It’s always a tough game against the US, they bring the heat, the bring the love of the Game as well. You’ve got to fight fire with fire, and we brought it early on. We fought back hard. Just like everything, those little moments in the game went their way and not ours and they put a lot of pressure on us.

“It awesome (to be here). I said to the guys straight after the game, they’re all Paralympians now. No one can every take that away from them. I’m so proud of what they’ve worked for to get here, what they’ve done while they’re here, and putting their heart and soul out there as well.“

The Wheel Blacks finished 11th at the 2018 World Championships and as a team last played internationally in 2019 when they finished 3rd at the Asia Oceania Wheelchair Rugby Championships, qualifying for Tokyo. All 8 squad members are made their Paralympic debut today. Whilst it is their first Paralympic Games, the majority of the squad has been competing together for over a decade.

Everson, Barton-Cootes and Lefono, along with Robert Hewitt, Tainafi, Gareth Lynch and Gavin Rolton have spinal cord injuries. Koneferenisi has a limb deficiency and Mike Todd, muscle degeneration. While absent from the last two Paralympics, a gold medal at Athens 2004 and a bronze at Sydney 2000 demonstrate the Wheel Blacks legacy this team is looking to reignite in Tokyo.

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What’s on tomorrow:

With the New Zealand Paralympic Team’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games campaign officially underway, Day 2 brings you more action from the Tokyo Aquatics Centre and Yoyogi National Stadium venues. New Zealand’s most decorated Paralympian, Para swimmer Sophie Pascoe, competes in her first event tomorrow – the Women’s 100m Breaststroke SB8 – and our Wheel Blacks Wheelchair rugby team take on Great Britain in their second pool game of the competition:

Para sportEventPara athleteNZ Time
Para swimmingWomen’s 100m Breaststroke – SB8 HeatsSophie Pascoe1.56pm
Para swimmingWomen’s 100m Breaststroke – SB8 Final (pending qualification in heats) Sophie Pascoe10.42pm
Wheelchair rugbyMixed – Pool Phase Group B, Great Britain vs New ZealandWheel Blacks11.00pm

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Broadcast information:

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will be broadcast in Aotearoa New Zealand. Viewers can catch the action as it happens, non-stop from midday, every day on TVNZ DUKE (Freeview 13, Sky 23 and live streamed, TVNZ OnDemand) together with extensive delayed and highlights coverage. Along with 1 NEWS coverage, a special highlights programme will air every morning at 9am on TVNZ 1 and will be available online via TVNZ OnDemand and AttitudeLive.com. TVNZ flagship programmes, including Breakfast and Seven Sharp, are expected to cover the Paralympics. Find out more: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/shows/paralympics/schedule