Great Britain topped an outstanding return to international competition with a world record in the final race of the World Series season-opener in Sheffield on Sunday (April 11).
The host nation’s Stephen Clegg touched the wall in the men’s mixed class 100m butterfly at 56.75 to break the class S12 record set by Roman Makarov of Russia in 2013.
The stunning victory gave Clegg a World Series points tally of 1004 and sent him well under the qualification consideration times for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Teammate Reece Dunn (class S14) also hit the target in silver on 56.19, ahead of France’s Alex Portal (S13) and Japan’s Hiroyuki Kamo (S14).
“I’m buzzing with that time,” said 25-year-old Clegg, who won a silver medal in the London 2019 World Para Swimming Allianz Championships. “No-one can ever really complain with a world record. It’s a great starting point to the year with the first main competition of the season and a great building block for the next five months to come.
“The reaction to the world record was also great. I wasn’t expecting much because there aren’t that many people here due to the COVID-19 restrictions, but it was great to hear my teammates and staff get behind me as I finished.”
There were no spectators allowed in to the four-day event at Ponds Forge International Centre, but success still smelt sweet. It was the first time many of the 90 athletes from 21 countries had raced in an international competition since the World Series was cancelled in Sheffield a year ago following the pandemic.
“It is an absolutely amazing feeling to be back and I’m so grateful I was able to race,” said Tully Kearney (S5), who narrowly missed out on beating her own British record in the 50m freestyle touching in 36.52. “There were definitely some nerves, but once I got into it, I was fine, and I really enjoyed racing.”
The world champion celebrated her 24th birthday on Sunday by amassing 948 points in the mixed class race. She came second overall to Jonne Moleman (S4) of the Netherlands who had an outstanding meet, winning all five of her races.
Kearney had earlier won a 100m freestyle heat. It was her first race since she won three gold medals at London 2019. Her time of 1:20.39 got her under the qualification consideration time for Tokyo 2020. Great Britain teammates world champion Alice Tai (S8) was second and Toni Shaw (S9) third.
There was also plenty of international talent on show in Sheffield. Israel’s world champion Mark Malyar had a busy tournament. The S7 swimmer won gold in the men’s 200m individual medley with France’s Portal in silver. In the men’s 400m freestyle multiclass race they switched places and Portal claimed victory over Malyar.
It was the battle of the S4 swimmers in the men’s 50m backstroke with Matz Topkin of Estonia landing gold ahead of Israel’s Ami Omer Dadaon and Malyar’s twin brother Ariel.
Dadaon also claimed victories in the men’s 100m freestyle and 50m breaststroke. In the 50m freestyle he came second behind Greece’s S8 world champion Dimosthenis Michalentzakis.
Among the youngest of the visitors was 14-year-old Husnah Kukundakwe of Uganda who competed in the women’s 100m breaststroke heats. The S8 swimmer knocked a staggering 21 seconds off her entry time of 1:57.44 to touch the wall in 1:36.31.
“I feel really proud and happy I didn’t disappoint my mum, who struggled to look for the money to get me to this event,” said Kukundakwe, who crowdfunded her travel to Sheffield with a social media campaign. “I’m also proud I didn’t disappoint my coach. Tokyo is the ultimate goal.”
Also hoping to compete in the Games is Japan’s An Nishida (S7), who won bronze in the 50m butterfly on 39.44 behind Great Britain’s Leah O’Connell (S7, 39.34). It was another gold for Dutch swimmer Moleman in 45.67.
“For a year I have not been able to participate in any international swimming meets due to COVID-19, so to be able to come here to compete makes me so happy,” Nishida said. “I am training hard and really want to compete at the Paralympics in Tokyo.”
Dream start for hosts
It was a dream start in Sheffield for many of the host nation’s 41 athletes. Dunn became the first S14 Brit in history to go under the minute mark on 59.96 in the men’s 100m backstroke final. He won gold ahead of S14 compatriots Louis Lawlor and Jordan Catchpole on 1:01.47 and 1:01.49. respectively.
Clegg also broke a British record in the men’s 100m freestyle S12, as did Grace Harvey in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB5 and Suzanna Hext in the women’s 100m backstroke SB4.
Lyndon Longhorne (S4) amassed a staggering five British records in the men’s 100m freestyle, 50m backstroke, 50m butterfly, 200m freestyle and the men’s 50m freestyle, where his time of 45.26 went under the mark set by Paul Johnston in 1999.
“I wasn’t expecting to get any British records, so to get all of them, it’s been a massive achievement,” he said.
Former World Series champion Louise Fiddes (S14) also impressed in her races with three golds in the women’s 100m breaststroke, 100m butterfly and 200m freestyle.
Paralympic and world champions Ellie Simmonds (S6) and Hannah Russell (S12) also recorded victories in the World Series.
Sheffield 2021 was organised by British Swimming. Complete results can be found here.
There are five stops in the World Series 2021. The next starts on Thursday (15) in Lewisville, USA, followed by Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy on Saturday (17).
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.
*World records subject to ratification by World Para Swimming.