'Small-town bloke' wins 11th Paralympic gold

He describes himself as a small-town bloke from the Welsh valleys, but yesterday David Roberts entered the world of sporting superstardom as he equalled Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson's record of 11 Paralympic gold medals.

His win in the 50m freestyle was his fourth of the Beijing Games, adding to seven other victories in the 2004 and 2008 events. He could beat that record today when Team GB takes part in the final two relay events.

"At the end of the day I am a small-town bloke from a small valley, but I've got a big heart. It's great to be able to do something like that," said Roberts, aged 28. "I have been feeling pretty off these last few days, I have had a bit of a sore head, so to pull that out was great."

His win was the highlight of a glorious day for Great Britain at the Beijing Paralympics, with Eleanor Simmonds, aged 13, winning the 100m freestyle – breaking her own world record by seven seconds – and the charismatic wheelchair tennis player Peter Norfolk, 47, taking gold with a straight sets victory.

Their successes helped to increase Great Britain's gold tally to 41, consolidating second position on the medal table, behind China on 63 and ahead of the US, which has 30.

Tanni Grey-Thompson, who was BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year in 1992, 2000 and 2004, became a household name as a result of her dominance on the track, and Roberts, who like her now has a total of 16 medals, said he was still trying to come to terms with matching her success.

"That's the one I came here for. Winning that one puts me equal with Tanni Grey-Thompson and to be equal with her is unbelievable. It's something I didn't believe would ever happen," he said.

His victory came despite the 50m race being one of his least favourite. "Short events don't really suit me. It's a little bit too short for my liking."

Norfolk, who is to become a father for the first time this year and gave himself the nickname The Quadfather, entered the court to the theme tune from The Godfather and swept away the Swede Johan Andersson, winning 6-2, 6-2 in front of a crowd of 12,000.

"The atmosphere out there was the best I've ever played in," he said. "It was stirring. The enthusiasmof the crowd was fantastic and I loved it. It is the best environment I think I've played in. It's just brilliant. The enthusiasm of the crowd at every point,between the points, whether you hit a winner or a miss, it was fantastic. I loved it."

He pledged to attempt to defend his title for a third time at the London Games in 2012. "I'm going to be there. If this is what it's like in China, imagine what it will be like in London. I can't wait."

With two gold medals at 13, Simmonds is also set for more glory in four years' time. She said her performance has surprised even herself. "I already had a gold medal, so anything else was a bonus. I went in there to do a personal best and see what would happen. I was just going in there to break it a bit but seven seconds is just amazing," she said.

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