Dolphins Land in London as Champs Loom

07 September 2019
Time to flick the switch: Lucky dives in for her first training session at the London Aquatics Centre.

With one day left until our Dolphins battle it out for world titles, Australia’s World Para Champs team have made the journey from Manchester to London in readiness for the highly anticipated first day of competition.

Packing up their luggage and converging on the team bus, the four-hour trip was split in two, with a lunch stop at Beckett’s Farm in Birmingham.

WA-based Dolphin, Ben Popham, who was originally born in England and moved to Australia when he was five, said the mentality of the team was beginning to shift as the competition nears.

“The last 24 hours have been a really exciting time – I think everyone is realising it’s nearly time to race,” he said on the stopover in Birmingham.

Ben Popham takes instruction from his team coach Rob Van Der Zant.
Ben Popham takes instruction from his team coach Rob Van Der Zant.

“The mood has shifted a little bit on the bus, we have become a little bit more serious and technical and I think we realise it’s now time to focus in and really start to turn on the race mode. In saying that though, the banter between us all is still there, and the team spirit is high.”

Popham, who made his Dolphin debut at last year’s Para Pan Pacs, will compete in three individual S8 classified events at his first World Para Championships, including the 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle and 400m freestyle.

“For me, I’m feeling super quick, super-fast and everything is sort of clicking,” he added.

With the competition taking place at the breathtaking London Aquatics Centre – the home of the 2012 London Olympics – the athletes enjoyed their first warm up session at the pool.

The London Aquatics Centre will host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships.
The spectacular London Aquatics Centre will host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships.

“The venue is absolutely incredible,” Lakeisha ‘Lucky’ Patterson said post training.

“Watching the London 2012 Paralympic Games is what made me want to start my Paralympic journey, so to be here seven years later and actually witness it for myself is incredibly exciting.”

Echoing Popham’s sentiments, Patterson said her fellow teammates will hone-in on their race plans and skills as the hours tick down to the first heats session on Monday morning.

“We’re definitely flicking the switch right now. Staging camp was a great opportunity to fine tune those last bits of hard work and get all the niggle out of travel, and now that we’re here in London, we’re almost ready to race.

“I know everyone is excited to swim in the competition pool tomorrow.”

With 651 swimmers from 81 countries taking part in this year’s World Para Championships, athletes from around the world are starting to arrive, creating a buzz around the venue. Soaking up the atmosphere while focusing on your preparation is all part of the experience, according to Patterson.

“Especially for our rookies it can all be quite overwhelming, seeing all the different countries in the venue, with different distractions around so it’s really good that we have that mix of youth and experience and take them under our wing and ‘say take it all in, but make sure you’re focussing on yourself and your preparations, but soak up the experience’.”

Gold Caps: A special moment as the team don their gold caps for training.
Gold Caps: A special moment as the team don their gold caps for training.

For the Queenslander, this marks her third world para team and second time racing, after the 2017 champs in Mexico were postponed due to an earthquake. Like her teammates, she can’t wait to compete against the best in the world.

“This year has brought new challenges and changes for me so I’m excited to see how I go, focusing on PBs and pretty great performances I’m hoping – and a couple of medals here and there won’t hurt. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”

The World Para Swimming Championships run from 9-15 September at the London Aquatics Centre. To stay up to date with all the latest news from the champs, connect to the Dolphins’ social media channels – FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

You can also watch all the action live via the 7plus app thanks to Channel 7.

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