Australia’s 37-year gold medal drought in Paralympic table tennis has come to a glorious end after Lei Lina and Yang Qian won their respective women’s singles finals in Tokyo.
Lei, who represented China up until a few years ago, became a six-time Paralympic gold medallist after coming from behind to beat world No 1 Xiong Guiyan in the women’s singles Class 9. Lei won three games to two, prevailing 6-11, 11-5, 11-5, 9-11, 11-5 to become the first Australian to snare a Paralympics gold medal in table tennis since Terry Briggs in 1984.
An hour later, Yang added another gold medal to Australia’s tally with a three-games-to-one victory over Brazilian Bruna Costa Alexandre in the women’s Class 10 category. It was her first Paralympics singles gold medal after winning silver at both Rio and London while competing for China.
It boosted Australia’s gold medal tally in Tokyo to 10.
“I was a bit nervous in the beginning, but after she [Lei] won it made me feel more confident,” Yang said of the impact of Lei’s win. “I’m really happy [to win] because it’s my first time to represent Australia.”
Lei had already won five Paralympic gold medals – including two singles – while competing for China. She now has a singles gold medal to her name while representing Australia.
Earlier on Monday, Rheed McCracken overcame a rib injury to snare a silver medal for the third Paralympics in a row in the men’s T34 wheelchair 100m.
Favourite and world record holder Walid Ktila had denied McCracken his golden dream at the past two Games. And it was a familiar story in Tokyo, with 36-year-old Tunisian Ktila producing a stunning start on the way to his third consecutive Paralympic gold medal in the event.
Ktila crossed the line first in a Paralympics record time of 15.01 seconds, with McCracken second in 15.37. Mohamed Alhammadi, from the United Arab Emirates, claimed bronze in 15.66. After the race, McCracken revealed he had popped a rib about five days ago. He fought through the pain to put in a brave effort in the final.
“I feel really good about it. It’s something I’m really proud of,” McCracken told the Seven Network. “I go into all of them thinking this is going to be the year, and it was no different this year. I did everything, so I’m pretty happy with it. Three in this event – I’d take that any day, that’s for sure.”
McCracken, who has cerebral palsy, was just 15 when he won silver in the 100m event at the 2012 Paralympics in London. The 24-year-old followed it up with another silver at Rio 2016. He will race in the 800m in Tokyo, an event in which he won bronze in Rio five years ago.
In the men’s wheelchair basketball, Australia have qualified for the quarter-finals despite a 70-69 loss to Great Britain in their final group game.
The Rollers were cruising towards victory after opening up a 20-point lead midway through the second quarter of Monday night’s match in Tokyo. They still led by 13 points at halftime, but Great Britain hit back hard to level the scores in the third term.