At his first Paralympic Games, 23-year-old Queenslander Jake Michel produced a new personal best and broke the Australian record for the Men’s 100m Breaststroke (SB14) to place second and capture his first Paralympic medal.
In a highly thrilling race, Michel and Japan’s Naohide Yamaguchi pulled away from the main pack after the first 50 metres and then went stroke for stroke in lanes four and five, attacking the last 25 as they came into the wall. Michel put plenty of pressure on the 2019 World Para champ, but in the end the talented local edged ahead to touch first in a world record time of 1:03.77, to Michel’s 1:04.28.
In a testament to his determination and drive, Michel’s time was around three and a half seconds faster than what he swam at the World Para Champs two years ago where he placed fourth and narrowly missed the dais.
With a mass of blazing red hair and standing at an imposing 190cm tall, ‘big red’ as he is affectionately known, said this achievement was going to take a while to process.
“It’s crazy and it hasn’t sunk in at all, it was a fast race, really fast, Yamaguchi really pushed me, and he was just the stronger man tonight,” Michel said.
“I think my race went according to plan, I went out a lot faster and a lot tighter and the back end was a lot better so I’m happy.”
When asked about who has supported his swimming journey, Michel teared up when he mentioned his mum.
“I’d like to thank everyone for the support, especially my mum who has done so much work to get me here…I’m so happy with my club and my coach, and my family and friends.”
In a dramatic end to the night, the Women’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay (34 points) comprising Ellie Cole, Isabella Vincent, Emily Beecroft and Ashleigh McConnell stormed home to claim bronze, however in a twist, the gold-medal-winning USA team was disqualified which saw the Aussies promoted to second position. A protest took place which postponed the medal ceremony until the following day.
The silver medal is a significant one for the team and marks a number of milestones. It’s the Aussies’ third consecutive podium in the event after winning gold in London and Rio, Ellie Cole now sits equal on overall Paralympic medals (16) with legendary Para-swimmer Priya Cooper, and it marks Vincent and Beecroft’s first Paralympic medal.
With her experience Cole dived in first and gave the green and gold a terrific start, while on her debut Vincent held strong to keep the team in touch and Beecroft and McConnell powered through the field to gain a coveted spot on the dais.
The quartet were elated to receive a medal and were over the moon to secure a spot on the dais.
“We all just wanted to go out there and swim for Australia and do Australia proud so for us to win a medal here is a dream come true for a lot of us and to be able to stand on the podium for the first time with these girls at the Games is amazing,” Cole said.
“Our team is so close, and our culture is so great, we’re all very supportive of each other and I know we’re going to stay friends for a very long time so it’s a very wonderful and rare moment to share with these girls.”
As the youngest member of the entire Australian Paralympic Team, Vincent couldn’t stop smiling as the reality was starting to sink in.
“It’s pretty cool, I can’t even process what happened – I just know my voice hurts from screaming at Ash. In the moment it’s just really exciting and it’s an incredible atmosphere here with my teammates,” Vincent said.
In her first Paralympic final, young Dolphin on debut Ashley Van Rijswijk placed fifth in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke (SB14) with a time of 1:17.84, while Paige Leonhardt – who picked up a silver medal in the Women’s 100m Butterfly on night one – finished ever so slightly behind her teammate (1:17.90) to place sixth.
After becoming the Paralympic champion in the Men’s 400m Freestyle (S9) on the opening night, Will Martin returned to the pool alongside 2016 Rio silver medallist Tim Disken for the 50m free (S9) splash and dash. With no margin for error in these extremely tight tussles, the pair finished fourth and seventh respectively, with Martin’s time of 25.34 setting a new personal best for the 20-year-old.
With two bronze medals already etched next to her name at these Games, Katja Dedekind completed her meet on Sunday night when she raced in the Women’s 50m Freestyle (S13). Once again, with little time to make adjustments in the water, Dedekind fell agonisingly close to another spot on the dais, with her time of 27.14 just seven one hundredths of a second behind third and .32 of a second behind first – showing just how close the margins are in these races. The young USC Spartan now boasts three bronze medals across two Paralympic Games.
Australia’s medal tally in the pool now stands at 19 including four gold, six silver and nine bronze.
All the action from the Tokyo Aquatics Centre kicks off again tomorrow morning with heats starting from 10am AEST.