Ukrainian Yelyzaveta Mereshko destroyed the form book at the 2015 IPC Swimming World Championships, winning three women’s S6 gold medals on her World Championships debut.
The biggest of the 23-year-old’s surprises came in the 400m freestyle S6. Mereshko beat British world and Paralympic champion Eleanor Simmonds who had previously won the event at every World Championships and Paralympic Games since 2008.
Mereshko’s stunning performances enter at No. 13 in the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of 2015.
The 400m was one of the highlights of the Championships in Glasgow, Great Britain. Simmonds had successfully defended her European title in 2014 against the debuting Mereshko, and everyone had tipped the home favourite for victory once again.
In the race, the pair were evenly matched throughout the first 200m, continuously swapping the lead. Heading into the final 100m, Simmonds turned first and was swimming at world-record pace.
But in the final 75m, Mereshko began her comeback and touched the wall first to start the final leg with the advantage. Sensing that her favourite event may be slipping away, world record holder Simmonds dug in to bring herself level by the last 25m.
However, it was Mereshko who had the edge and pulled ahead with just a few metres to go, touching in with a Championships record time.
“After my victory, I’ve got even more power and confidence to keep going,” Mereshko said. “It just proved that my training process was well organised. I know that a lot of people were watching my performance online, and my victory made my family, friends and relatives happy and proud of me. Especially my town Kherson was really proud that now it has an athlete with a world title. Everybody expected my good performance, but I tried to do my best to exceed all expectations. My family was glad of my success with all their hearts.”
The 400m freestyle gold was Mereshko’s first world title, followed by two more in the 50m and 100m freestyle. The 50m and 100m also saw the Ukrainian bring down the world record in the heats and finals.
Her and Simmonds’ head-to-head will continue at the 2016 IPC Swimming European Open Championships in Funchal, Portugal, taking place just a few months before the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, where Simmonds will look to defend her two Paralympic titles.
But going into 2016, Mereshko is playing her cards close to her chest, preferring instead to focus on her own goals rather than those of her idol.
“It is better to never guess at the future, moreover not to tell anybody about your plans and goals. You just have to work hard and believe in yourself,” Mereshko said, also indicating that she has an eye on her opponents. “There's no limit to perfection, I’m trying to cover all the aspects by analysing other athletes' performances, keep improving my swimming technique and developing my creativity.”
On whether she can win her first Paralympic golds in Rio, Mereshko was equally as modest.
“Within the year I’ll try to make my skills and technique perfect and will work unsparingly, she said. “I hope to show high results.
“Every athlete dreams about Paralympic Games. This is the main goal for athletes who perform in para-sports. These titles help you to become self-confident. It just helps you to understand that you’ve done everything you could and reached the top.”
However Mereshko is less ambiguous about her future vision and had a clear message for her rivals, present and future: “My main goal is the Paralympic gold and to hold this title as long as I can.”
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2015, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.