Australia’s Paralympians made a sensational return to competition at the Melbourne 2022 Para Swimming World Series.
It was the first major meet for the host nation’s athletes since the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games last August, and they did not disappoint.
DOMINANT HANCE AND STEPHENS
Sprint stars Benjamin Hance and Keira Stephens led the way with a hattrick of gold medals each at the three-day event, which started on Friday (18 February) at the Melbourne Sports Complex.
Hance repeated his gold-medal winning performance in the 100m backstroke SB14 in Tokyo with another top podium finish in the multi-class race. The Paralympic champion landed just outside his world record time to win in 57.67.
The 21-year-old also dominated in the 100m butterfly where he swapped the bronze he won in Tokyo for gold when he hit the wall in 57.03. The third victory came on the last day in the 200m freestyle in 1:58.94.
His teammate Stephens was too good for the field in her races. “I’m happy with another win and another strong performance after racing many events,” she said after the women’s 50m freestyle splash and dash, which she won in 29.81.
The 18-year-old also upgraded the bronze she won in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB9 in Tokyo for a gold. She held off a strong challenge from her training partner Ruby Storm (S14) to win the multi-class final in 1:19.37.
Her hattrick came in the women’s 200m individual medley where she shaved three seconds off her time in the heats to hit the wall first in 2:36.77.
“I’m excited the IM is in my events for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham,” she said. “I’m practising racing the event while continuing to focus on the 100m breaststroke.”
TOKYO REPLAY FOR CROTHERS
The second leg of the 2022 World Series was an important part of the athletes’ preparations for the national trials. The event in April is ahead of the World Para Swimming Championships in Madeira and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“The more I can race between now and the trials and make the most of being healthy, the better,” said sprint king Rowan Crothers.
The double Paralympic champion had a dream start to his 2022 campaign with victory in two races. The 24-year-old repeated his Games win in the fast and furious men’s 50m freestyle. The S10 swimmer edged out his Tokyo 2020 teammate, Tom Gallagher, to hit the wall in 24.12.
A second gold landed in the men’s 100m freestyle. The silver medallist from Tokyo in the event led from the start to finish in 54.19. Gallagher was close on Crothers’ heels again to take silver.
There were nearly 40 swimmers from five countries competing in the second leg of the World Series, which was held as part of the Victoria Open Swimming Championships.
Among the international talent on show was India’s Suyash Jadhav (S7), an Asian Para Games champion, who came fifth in the men’s 50m butterfly. The race was won by the host nation’s Jarred Dyer (S14), who shaved nearly a second off his heat time to finish in 27.92.
There were fewer overseas athletes at the competition than last year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Other nations represented included Malaysia and Thailand.
Thailand’s Yongyoot Tabthong (SB6), a silver medallist in the ASEAN ParaGames, came sixth in the men’s 50m breaststroke final. The race was won by Australia’s three-time Paralympic champion Matthew Levy (SB6) in 37.74.
Levy also went on to win gold in the men’s 100m breaststroke in 1:23.08. He held off an impressive challenge from his training partner Tim Diskin (SB9), who took silver.
MORE GOLD FOR AUSTRALIA
It was a great start to the season for many more of the host nation’s athletes. Storm, a Paralympic bronze medallist, won two golds at the meet. In the women’s 200m freestyle the S14 swimmer led a formidable field to finish in 2:17.24.
In the women’s 100m butterfly she landed just ahead of another training partner, Emily Beecroft (S9), in 1:09.73. Storm said later that she was “excited to race and very happy to get the win considering the big block of training I am currently in”.
But not to be outdone, Beecroft got on top of the podium in the women’s 50m butterfly where she led from the front to finish in 31.78.
Jenna Jones also impressed in the women’s 100m freestyle. The S12 swimmer had a strong heat and set a blistering pace in the final to hit the wall first in 1:04.39.
Her namesake Ella Jones (S8) shaved four seconds off her time in the heats to claim gold in the women’s 400m freestyle in 5:16.19.
Timothy Hodge was also in excellent form in the men’s equivalent of the race. The Tokyo silver medallist landed first in 4:21.89. Hodge also secured a second victory in the men’s 200m individual medley in 2:15.97.
“I’m happy to be back racing after a hectic Games preparation in 2021,” he said. “I’m just finding my groove with my new coach and was focusing on the little things in the IM. With no real goal time, I just wanted to execute the skills and was surprised with the good time.”
Ahmed Kelly, another Paralympic silver medallist, shaved six seconds off his heat time in the 150m individual medley SM3 to win in 3:08.93. As the only competitor in the event, he said he was racing the clock and “focusing on my skills to drop the time from the heats to finals”.
The 30-year-old added: “I’m really focussing on my life balance post-Tokyo and enjoying working and continuing to swim. I will be there in Madeira for Worlds this year and ready to beat the world as we look forward to Paris 2024.”
Madeleine McTernan (S14) got ahead of the field in the women’s 100m backstroke to win in 1:11.17. And there was also a clean sweep in the 50m backstroke with Jesse Aungles (S8) taking the men’s title in 33.97 and Hannah Price (S9) in the women’s in 35.68.
Tokyo 2020 Paralympian Aungles said after his race: “It’s great to be back at a World Series event and catching up with my teammates from Tokyo. I am still getting back into regular training and the racing, and the connection here with our team has been a fun experience.”
Melbourne 2022 was organised by Swimming Australia. Complete results can be found here.
There are five stops in the World Series 2022. The first leg in Aberdeen started on Thursday (17 February) and also finished on Sunday (20 February).
The next stop will be in Lignano Sabbiadoro, in Italy, from 11 to 13 March, followed by Berlin, Germany, from 31 March to 3 April, and ends in Indianapolis, USA, from 7 to 9 April.
The World Para Swimming Points System is used at the World Series competitions to calculate athletes’ results. At the end of the season the top female and male swimmers are declared season winners.