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Invictus Games Day One: Athletics

11th September 2014

Prince Harry celebrates with team GB on the first day of the Invictus Games

Prince Harry celebrates with team GB on the first day of the Invictus Games

Britain's wounded warriors won a clutch of gold medals on the opening day of the Invictus Games as Prince Harry said he was "thrilled" by the sporting spectacle.

The highlight was wheelchair racer Joseph Townsend, a former Royal Marine, who claimed four victories on the track in the 100 metres, 200m, 400m and 1,500m.

He was in a class of his own and was dubbed by Prince Harry as "our David Weir, a medal machine", comparing the ex-serviceman to the athlete who won three gold medals at the Paralympics.

Former Army Captain David Henson, British Armed Forces team captain, who was cheered by the ecstatic spectators as he won a 200m gold, summed up the mood - "It's been an emotional day".

The gold rush began when Alex Tate crossed the finishing line first in a 100m race and later described the Games as the "best rehabilitation any soldier could have".

Prince Harry, who is the driving force behind the Games, said he was "thrilled" when asked for his assessment of the first day.

He was joined by The Duke of Cambridge and Their Royal Highnesses mingled freely with the competitors, spectators and press at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre.

The Prince of Wales was present and, as planned, arrived later in the afternoon where after watching the track events, His Royal Highness met groups of volunteers, competitors and Invictus Games event organisers.

The Prince of Wales joins The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry at the Invictus Games

The Prince of Wales joins The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry at the Invictus Games

Double gold Andy Grant, 26, who triumphed in the 400m and 1,500m races for competitors who have lost limbs below the knee, said: "I knew straight away how important sport was just through my rehab, but seeing the guys now, I don't think there is anything more inspiring than seeing a guy who two years ago was lying in a ditch in Afghanistan bleeding to death, and now he is running 100m in Paralympic time."

The Liverpudlian had the lower part of his right leg amputated after being caught in a blast while serving in Afghanistan.

Mr Tate, a former private, lost his left leg when he was blown up in Afghanistan in 2012 while serving with 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment.

He said he had to throw himself over the finish line to beat a team-mate in the sprint race for competitors with one or two limbs missing below the knee.

The 24-year-old, from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, whose mother, father, sister and friends were among the cheering crowds, said: "My hamstring was playing up a little bit at the end of that race.

"It went about 10 metres before the end, that's why I had to pretty much throw myself over the line."

Mr Tate, who recently left the armed forces, paid tribute to the appreciative crowds cheering on the competitors.

He added: "This is probably the best rehabilitation any soldier could have. I suffered from depression and quite bad PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

"It's given me something to focus on and keep my mind off other things."

More than 400 competitors, both serving military personnel and veterans, are to go head to head in nine adaptive sports at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Lee Valley Athletics Centre in London over four days from Thursday.

Teams have travelled from the USA, Denmark, Estonia, France and Italy, Canada, The Netherlands, Australia, Afghanistan, Georgia, New Zealand and Germany to compete in the Games.

By the end of the first day of the four-day Games, Britain had won 15 gold medals, seven silver and six bronze but were trailing team US who had won more than 70 medals.

Mr Townsend, 26, who looked dazed after winning his four golds, said: "I'm shattered, I'm just overwhelmed by the support here."

The former Royal Marine Commando of Eastbourne, East Sussex was injured in 2008 when he stood on an anti-tank mine in Afghanistan and lost the use of both his legs.

He competes in the para-triathlon and hopes to be part of the Paralympics team heading to Rio 2016.

Mr Townsend added: "There were a few events I was winning by a clear margin but the support of the crowds just drives you to keep going, I could have eased off the gas but I was doing it for the crowds."

Prince Harry was inspired to stage the Invictus Games after seeing a similar event, the Warrior Games in the US, and hopes sport will help with the rehabilitation of sick and injured service personnel.