Tokyo 2020 champions back to the pool at the Para Swimming World Series Australia

Melbourne Sports Centre hosts the event for the third time with host nation boasting five gold medallists from last year's Paralympic Games 17 Feb 2022
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A female Para swimmer with an Australian swimming cap
Two-time Paralympic champion in the women's 50m freestyle S4 Rachael Watson is one of the stars of the Para Swimming World Series Australia 2022
Ⓒ Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
By Mary Barber| For World Para Swimming

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic champions will kick off their 2022 campaign for gold medal glory in the pool at the Para Swimming World Series Australia in Melbourne on Friday (18 February).

Five months after Australia’s Ben Popham, Lakeisha Patterson, Ronan Crothers, Benjamin Hance and Rachael Watson topped the podium in their races in Japan, they will line-up to compete for more titles at the Melbourne Sports Centre.

The three-day event is the second major Para swimming competition since the Games and is an important stepping-stone to this year’s World Championships in Madeira, Portugal in June. It also marks the start of the next Paralympic cycle, which leads to Paris 2024.

There will be nearly 40 athletes taking part from five countries, including India, Malaysia, Russia, and Thailand. Paralympic gold medallist Anastasiia Gontar of Russia and her bronze medallist compatriot Iuliia Shishova are among those due to compete. 

Australia’s Popham will be chasing gold again after an outstanding Games’ debut in Tokyo with wins in the 100m freestyle S8 and 4x100m freestyle 34pts and a second place in the 4x100m medley 34pts. 

The 21-year-old’s victories were made even sweeter last Saturday (12 February) when his teammates across the Paralympic and Olympic programs voted him the Swimmers’ Swimmer of the Year for his achievements. 

SWIMMER'S SWIMMER

The popular athlete shared the hotly contested honours with Grant “Scooter” Patterson, a silver and bronze medallist in Tokyo, at the Swimming Australia awards at the RACV Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast.

In Melbourne he will be hoping to leave his mark in the 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle and the 200m individual medley. 

“I’m excited about the World Series and being able to put a marker on the board to see where I’m at after a long break,” he said. “You can do all the indicator sets in the training pool, but they never quite add up to where you actually are. Putting yourself under pressure in race conditions is always the best way to do it.

“What is also great about the World Series, and particularly a home one like Melbourne, is it allows you to race and try new things without the massive consequences that come with underperforming at a World Champs or Paralympic Games. You can see if the strategies you are employing are competitive.”

Popham’s teammate Hance will be hoping to repeat his victory in Tokyo in the 100m backstroke multi-class race. Crothers will also want to hit the wall first again in the 50m freestyle, as will Patterson and Watson in the 100m freestyle.

It will be the third time that Melbourne has hosted the World Series, with the latest meet being held in conjunction with the Victorian State Swimming Championships. 

Adam Pine, Swimming Australia’s general manager, said the competition was an important fixture in the calendar.

“The World Series marks the start of a very busy year with the World Championships and Commonwealth Games. The meet is about making the most of the competition opportunities for our athletes and ensuring that we continue to move forward in the short cycle to Paris 2024.”

The number of international athletes competing will be fewer than previous years, which Pine said was primarily due to travel restrictions following the pandemic. But it will be no less exciting with many of the host nation’s finest swimmers in action.

Among the visitors will also be India’s Suyash Jadhav, a 2018 Asian Para Games champion in the 50m butterfly S7. And flying the flag for Malaysia will be Anderson Jamba, who won gold in the 2017 Asean Para Games in Kuala Lumpur in 50m backstroke S4.

“We’d love to have more internationals coming to Australia and racing. It would be a great experience and provide connections,” said Pine, who is an Olympic swimming champion. “The World Series, though, is also an important opportunity for classification for our athletes so that they will be eligible for other events, like the Commonwealth Games.”

It will also be the first time for many of the athletes to meet up since the Paralympic Games. “It’s going to be great to get back together,” he added.

SECOND STOP 

Australia won 33 Para swimming medals, with eight gold, to finish sixth on the leader board at Tokyo 2020. China came first on 56 medals with 19 gold, followed by the RPC and USA.

Melbourne is the second of five legs in the 2022 Para Swimming World Series. The first kicked off in Aberdeen, Great Britain on Thursday (17 February) and will run for four days. The third will be in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy from 11 to 13 March, followed by Berlin, Germany from 31 March to 3 April, and end in Indianapolis, USA from 7 to 9 April.

Athletes take part in multiclass races and their results at each Series are calculated using a standardised World Para Swimming points system.

At the end of a World Series’ season, which was launched in 2017, the best female and male swimmers’ awards are picked based on rankings. In 2021 Germany’s Elena Krawzow and Spain’s Antoni Ponce claimed the women’s and men’s titles, respectively.

Fabiola Ramirez from Mexico and Alberto Abarza from Chile won the women’s and men’s high-support needs (for athletes in classes S1 to S3), respectively. The junior World Series 2021 winners were Austria’s Janina Falk and Poland’s Alan Ogorzalek.

Israel topped the ranking among National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) with 14034 points with Mexico second and Spain third.

The Para Swimming World Series Australia 2022 will be streamed live on Swim TV

Complete schedule and results can be found here.