London: Oscar Pistorius began the defence of his three sprint titles with a bang on Saturday, breaking the world record in the T44 200m, as Irish runner Jason Smyth became the fastest Paralympian in history over 100m.
Pistorius, who earlier this month became the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics, stormed to victory in his heat at the Olympic Stadium in east London, clocking a new best of 21.30 seconds.
The 25-year-old said he was happy with the time — and the reception from the 80,000-strong crowd — but again played down expectations that he would complete the sprint clean-sweep.
“I’ve done a world record tonight, so we’ll see what happens, but the 100m isn’t really my event,” he told reporters.
Pistorius, nicknamed the “Blade Runner” because of his carbon fibre prostheses, will face Beijing silver medallist Jim Bob Bizzell, as well as his long-standing rival Jerome Singleton, both of the United States.
The race had been billed as the highlight of the evening’s programme, with Pistorius’ participation in the 400m heats and 4x400m relay final at the Olympics making him the most high-profile athlete at the Games.
But Irish sprinter Jason Smyth gave a stunning performance in the T13 100m, streaking to victory in 10.46 seconds, breaking the previous world best of 10.54 seconds that he set in qualifying on Friday night.
The 25-year-old, who is visually impaired and like Pistorius also competes in non-disabled races, trains with US sprint star Tyson Gay in Florida and has said it is possible to have a Paralympian run under 10 seconds in the straight sprint.
He has run 10.22 seconds — 0.27 seconds quicker than the non-disabled women’s 100m record set by Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988 — although his time has not been recognised by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
There was more cheer for Ireland in the T37 category for athletes with cerebral palsy, as Michael McKillop retained his 800m title from Beijing in a new world record of 1 minute 57.22 seconds.
Another record tumbled in the men’s T38 100m as Australia’s Evan O’Hanlon — once voted one of his country’s most eligible bachelors by a fashion magazine — lowered the previous best by 0.09 seconds to defend his Beijing gold in 10.79 seconds.
Cuba’s Yunidis Castillo also retained her T46 200m title in a new world best.
In the pool, Britain’s Ellie Simmonds laid to rest question marks about Victoria Arlen’s eligibility to race in the women’s S6 400m, smashing the US swim queen’s previous world best by just over five seconds to win gold.
Arlen was given the all-clear to race after being ruled “non-eligible” then re-instated earlier this week on appeal. The IPC will rule on her case next August.
Brazil’s Andre Brasil, meanwhile, picked up his third gold medal of the Games in the men’s S10 100m butterfly, while New Zealand’s Sophie Pascoe, triumphed in the women’s equivalent, after picking up S10 200m individual medley gold.
US swimmer Jessica Long picked up her third medal in as many days and her 10th in three Games in the SB7 100m breaststroke.
In cycling, Britain’s Sarah Storey clinched the C4/5 500m time-trial for her second gold of the Paralympics and the ninth of her Games career, as her husband Barney helped Neil Fachie win the blind and visually impaired 1km time-trial.
In the mens’ C4 individual pursuit over 4km, Carol-Eduard Novak of Romania, a silver medallist in Beijing, took gold from the Czech Republic’s defending champion Jiri Jezek.
Michael Gallagher gave Australia another gold in the C5 race, while China was at the top of the podium once again after He Yin, who took the women’s C1-2-3 500m time-trial.
Defending champions Ukraine and the team they defeated in the final four years ago, Russia, showed they were still the teams to beat in seven-a-side football, as they thumped the United States 9-0 and Argentina 8-0 respectively.
Nigeria continued their dominance of the paralifting, as Esther Oyema and Joy Onaolapo both broke world records in the -48kg and -52kg categories, leaving the west African nation with a medal in seven of the eight classes at the Games.
There was surprise, though, in the equestrian after Britain’s Lee Pearson took silver to Australia’s Joann Formosa in the Grade Ib individual championship — the first time he has been beaten in a Paralympic dressage competition in four Games.