The Australian Paralympic Swim Team has kicked off its Tokyo 2020 campaign in frenetic fashion, collecting an impressive eight medals at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre on the opening night of the competition, including four gold, one silver and three bronze.
In the first event of the night – the Men’s 400m Freestyle (S9) – William Martin took an early lead and never gave in, storming home in lane six to win gold in a new Paralympic record time of 4:10.25. In a tremendous result for Australia, Alex Tuckfield – who pulled on the green and gold for the first time – snared the bronze medal in a new personal best of 4:13.54. Reigning Paralympic champion and decorated Australian Dolphin, Brenden Hall, clocked the fastest time he’d swam in three years to place fourth.
A shocked Martin couldn’t believe he’d become a Paralympic champion.
“I was in front and that's just the way that I wanted to keep it. I was a tiny bit off so that's a bit annoying but other than that, I'm pretty ecstatic. I got this medal, so I'm really happy.”
An epic finish in the Women’s 400m Freestyle (S9) saw Lakeisha ‘Lucky’ Patterson touch narrowly ahead of her Hungarian counterpart in 4:36.68 to record Australia’s second gold medal of the night. Remarkably, it was on this day five years ago – which also happens to be her mum’s birthday – that she won this event in the S8 class in Rio. Showing the depth of the Australian side, Dolphin leader and four-time Paralympian, Ellie Cole, touched for fourth in 4:43.98.
Speaking after the race, Patterson said she knew it was going to be a fierce final.
“It was such a tight race, and I knew it was going to be a really tough one,” she said.
“I knew I had to attack it from the start, and I could briefly see out of the corner off my eye to the left in that last 50 metres how close the Hungarian was.
“I knew that I had given it everything I could, and I was thinking back to all those training sessions. I’m fortunate to train with a really incredible squad, so just kicking back into what I did at training and try and fight for that final lap.”
In the first splash and dash of the meet, an elated Rowan Crothers gave it everything he had to triumph in the Men’s 50m Freestyle (S10). Powering home to touch the wall in a new Australian record time of 23.21, the 23-year-old crushed his personal best for the second time today to secure his first Paralympic medal. Fellow compatriot, Tom Gallagher, also pulled out a brilliant performance and new personal best to see him place fifth overall in his debut Paralympic final.
After watching his best mate Rowan Crothers win gold in the previous race, Ben Popham was inspired to do the same and took home Australia’s fourth gold medal of the evening in the Men’s 100m Freestyle S8. Hitting the wall in 57.37, Popham equalled the Australian record he set at Trials in June.
The medals kept flowing for the Aussies on night one, with Games debutant Ben Hance snaring bronze in the Men’s 100m Butterfly (S14). An incredible feat at his first international outing, the 21-year-old posted a personal best of 56.90 to secure his place on the podium. Young Auburn swimmer, Ricky Betar, placed eighth in 58.62.
Not to be outdone, Paige Leonhardt and Ruby Storm captured a silver and bronze respectively in the Women’s 100m Butterfly (S14). Leonhardt posted a time of 1:05.48 to better the Australian record she set at Trials in June, while Storm smashed her personal best for the second time today – recoding 1:06.50 to see her swim sub 1:07 for the first time in her career.
In more action tonight, Ahmed Kelly also had his first hit out in the water and placed seventh in the Men’s 100m Breaststroke (SB3). Clocking 54.89, Kelly improved his time from the heat swim this morning and will give him confidence for the rest of his program.
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