Australia surged to four gold medals on the final evening of competition to claim victory in the unofficial ‘battle of the Tasman’ at the Melbourne 2019 World Para Swimming World Series.
The host nation ended three thrilling days of high-class action with the grand total of nine gold medals, 15 silver and 16 bronze - 40 of the 66 medals on offer.
Friends and neighbours New Zealand were second on the leaderboard with six golds and two silvers.
The Kiwis also clocked three world-record times during the meet, with Sophie Pascoe registering a blistering S9 all-time best of 28.15 seconds on Sunday evening on her way to winning the women’s 50m butterfly. Her time eclipsed Spain’s Sarai Gascon’s 2017 mark of 30.96.
The nine-time Paralympic gold medallist’s speedy sprint added to two world-leading marks set on Saturday, one by Pascoe herself in the S9 women’s freestyle, and the other by her countryman Cameron Leslie in the S4 men’s 100m backstroke.
Aussie Aussie Aussie
Sunday night started with a bang for the Australians, with a sweep of the podium places in the first event, the men’s 50m butterfly. Josh Alford swept home first, trailed by Nick Layton and Harrison Vig. Triple Melbourne 2019 World Series gold medallist Leslie just missed out on the silverware this time around, finishing in fourth place.
The Australians clinched two more medals in the next race, the women’s 50m butterfly, but missed out on gold thanks to Pascoe’s stunning swim. Emily Beecroft finished in the silver medal spot, with Taylor Corry picking up bronze.
It was back to Aussie dominance in race three, though, with Timothy Hodge leading a home charge in the 50m backstroke.
Rod Welsh took silver, with Josh Alford - back in the water a matter of minutes after his 50m fly exploits - finishing in third place this time around.
“I’m really happy,” winner Hodge said. “I went into this final just hoping for a decent time and I managed a small PB.”
Hodge was grinning again later in the evening when he picked up a second gold, winning the men’s 200m individual medley ahead of fellow Australian Liam Schluter and third-place Chan Long Tin of Hong Kong China.
“It’s been great racing here. I’ve never actually raced in this outdoor pool before, it’s been a good experience,” the 18-year-old said.
“[Now] I’ll start preparing for the next Paralympics. I’ll be working on the small stuff like skills, to try and perfect my individual race leading up to Tokyo. Hopefully I’ll be fit and ready to go.”
Singapore will host their first event in the World Series in May this year, and they picked up a first medal at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre when three-time Paralympic Games gold medallist Yip Pin Xiu won silver in the women’s 50m backstroke.
She was pipped to gold by New Zealand’s Tupou Neiufi, while Australia’s Madeleine McTernan won bronze.
Joy for Japan
Japan picked up two golds on the final evening, the first of them going to Mei Ichinose in the women’s 200m individual medley. Her victory relegated Tiffany Thomas Kane to second place, denying the 17-year-old Australian a third gold medal at this event. The bronze went to Hong Kong China’s Chan You Lam.
“The 200m individual medley is my main event,” Ichinose said. “I knew it was going to be tough. This morning [in the prelim] was good, but I’m really happy that I went two seconds faster in the finals.
“I’ve got my trials for the world champs in two weeks back in Japan. This is really going to help my confidence in the trials, so I am really happy with that and with the gold.”
Ichinose was quick to praise the format of the World Series in Melbourne, which was combined with the Victorian State Championships.
“It was also a great experience swimming in a competition alongside the able-bodied athletes here and I hope that more events introduce that in the future,” she said. “I loved all the support here and swimming as part of a team. It was a great feeling.”
Australia’s Liam Schluter had already picked up silver and bronze medals in Melbourne, and finally pocketed a coveted gold when he won the event’s penultimate race, the men’s 200m freestyle, ahead of Tang Wai Lok of Hong Kong China. Jack Ireland, of Australia, took the bronze.
The hosts also looked strong in the final race, the women’s 200m freestyle, but it was Japan who brought down the curtain on Melbourne 2019 courtesy of a gold medal-winning swim from Amisa Kitano.
Fifteen-year-old Ruby Storm took silver for Australia - her second medal of the weekend - and Jade Lucy finished third.
Eight countries shared the 66 medals available: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France, Hong Kong China, Belgium, Kazakhstan and Singapore.
The season resumes in Indianapolis, USA, from 4-6 April. The other hosts are Sao Paulo, Brazil (25-27 April); Glasgow, Great Britain (25-28 April); Singapore (10-12 May); Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy (30 May-2 June); and Berlin, Germany (6-9 June).
Full results from Melbourne are available on Swimming Australia’s website.