Day two of the World Para Swimming World Series brought a night to remember for Team New Zealand, with two gold medals, two silver medals and two world records to take back across the Tasman Sea.
Fresh from his 100m freestyle success on Friday, Cameron Leslie got the finals session off with a bang, winning gold and swimming an S4 world record time of 1:34.42 in the men’s 100m backstroke. He shaved almost three seconds off the previous best of 1:37.33, held by Juan Reyes of Mexico since July 2008.
Forty-five minutes after that success, Leslie was back in the water to contest the men’s 50m free. Despite his earlier exertions, the 29-year-old finished top of the podium for the third time in 24 hours, beating Australia’s Timothy Disken into second place, with fellow Australian Rod Welsh taking bronze.
“It’s been a busy 24 hours,” Leslie said. “Lots of races to get under my belt, but it’s awesome to be back racing again after a quiet two years. It’s nice to be back in a competitive environment.
“We’ve got a big Kiwi team here this time, with a lot of development swimmers coming over and getting internationally classified. It’s good experience for them and good to be part of this World Series event and see where the bar is at.
“I’m going year-by-year at the moment, but Tokyo [for the 2020 Paralympic Games] is definitely in my mind and I’m looking forward to going there and competing.”
Pascoe powers through
She may have nine Paralympic gold medals, but Leslie’s fellow Kiwi Sophie Pascoe twice had to settle for silver on Saturday. She finished runner-up in the women’s 50m free and 100m breaststroke, but her time of 28.14 seconds in the freestyle event was a new S9 world record, beating US swimmer Michelle Konkoly’s previous mark by 0.10 seconds.
The multi-class race itself was won by France’s Claire Supiot, the former Olympian who also topped the podium in the women’s 400m freestyle on Friday.
There was joy, too, for host nation Australia who put in another strong display to win three gold medals and take their overall tally to an event-leading five.
Ellie Cole got the ball rolling with victory in the women’s 100m backstroke, beating off the challenge of silver medallist and fellow countrywoman Katja Dedekind. France’s Anaelle Roulet finished third.
Cole has represented her country at three Paralympic Games, winning six gold medals in the process, and she hopes her performance at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre may have inspired the next generation.
“I had my niece here tonight and I promised her I’d win a gold,” Cole said. “Obviously that’s out of my hands, but she’s going to be really excited when I take it upstairs and put it round her neck. Hopefully I’ve inspired a future Olympian tonight … no pressure.”
Cole was delighted to see the World Para Swimming World Series being hosted in Australia for the first time this weekend, saying: “Having the World Para Series here for the first time is really special.
“It’s opened the eyes of many Victorians on what Para swimming is about. To be here in front of people I grew up around - I grew up in this pool - is really special.”
Australia’s other gold medal performers were Jake Michel - who won the men’s 100m breaststroke ahead of Japan’s Naoh Yamaguchi and Belgium’s Ayme Parmenier - and 17-year-old starlet Tiffany Thomas Kane who picked up her second breaststroke gold of the meet, following up Friday’s 50m success with victory in the 100m.
Fifteen-year-old Ruby Storm took bronze behind Thomas Kane and Pascoe in the breaststroke and said “I’ve been racing against the older guys and it’s been helping me swim a lot faster. To be beating some of the older guys means a lot to me because I’m really young.
“By the end of the weekend I want to get world times, more PBs and hopefully win a few medals.”
Action from Melbourne continues on day three (17 February), and you can watch it live on World Para Swimming’s website and Facebook page.
Full results from Melbourne are available on Swimming Australia’s website.