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London – A near-capacity crowd at the Olympic Stadium on Friday greeted the first day of athletics at the Paralympics, as the first medals were won in the field events.
Nearly 80,000 people packed into the venue in east London, where the opening ceremony was held on Wednesday night, roaring T54 wheelchair racers around the track in the women's 5,000m heats.
“It was great, I've never experienced such a crowd in the morning. We all raced very well,” said Switzerland's Edith Wolf, who won the second heat. “After Beijing I never thought I would have such a super cool feeling.
“The crowd were perfect.”
Denmark's Jackie Christiansen, who won gold in the men's F42/44 shot with a throw of 18.16m, added: “It was really exciting out there. It was surely the biggest crowd I've seen in my lifetime.
“And the crowd were great. They were with us all the way.”
Britain's Shelley Woods, a double medallist in Beijing in the T54, described the atmosphere as “immense”.
The atmosphere replicated that at the Olympics earlier this month, where heats also took place to a near full-house. The Paralympics, billed by organisers as the biggest and most high-profile in its history, is a near sell-out.
The first medals were awarded in the women's F37/38 long jump, with gold going to Russia's Margarita Goncharova. Inna Stryzhak of Ukraine took silver while bronze went to China's Cao Yuanhuang.
In the women's F35/36 discus, Mariaa Pomazan took gold, with Wu Qing and Bao Jiongyu taking silver and bronze for China.
Elsewhere, Felicity Johnson and Stephanie Morton gave Australia another track cycling gold in the velodrome, beating Britain's Aileen McGlynn and Helen Scott in the women's blind and visually impaired 1km time trial.
New Zealand's Philippa Gray and Laura Thompson claimed bronze.
Britain was hoping for another gold to add to Sarah Storey's win in the C5 3km individual pursuit, with C4 world champion Jody Cundy facing off against his compatriot and counterpart in the C5 class, Jon-Allan Butterworth.
Meanwhile Martine Wright, who lost both legs during the Islamist suicide bombings on London's public transport network on July 7, 2005, made an emotional debut in the Paralympics, as Britain took their Games bow in sitting volleyball.
Watched by London Mayor Boris Johnson, the 39-year-old took to the court at the ExCeL exhibition centre, receiving an ovation from the crowd, eclipsing the result which saw Ukraine win easily 25-9, 25-20, 25-14.
Wright, who was on her way to work and reading about London's successful bid to host the Olympics and Paralympics announced the day before when the bombs were triggered, has become one of the inspirational stories of the Games.
“It was absolutely amazing,” she told AFP after the match. “I've been on quite a journey the last few years.
“To be able to finally get on court in front of my friends and family that have supported me and been so important to me over the last few years was an absolute dream come true – and a dream that I never actually would have had before July 7.”
China went into the second day of competition at the top of the medal table with 15, including six gold, ahead of Australia with nine, including three gold.
Forty medals were being contested on Friday, while competition starts in five-a-side football and rowing, alongside heats and finals in equestrian, goalball, judo, powerlifting, shooting, swimming, table tennis and wheelchair basketball.
Swimming sees the first events for intellectually disabled athletes. The category was dropped after Sydney in 2000, when it emerged 10 members of Spain's victorious wheelchair basketball team had no intellectual or physical impairment. – Sapa-AFP