8 September 2019
Tai revels in London buzz as GB top early World Para Swimming medal table
The deafening roar of an “insane” home crowd is still ringing in Alice Tai’s ears after being crowned world champion at the London Aquatics Centre.
The 20-year-old was in inspired form as GB secured 11 medals on the opening night of the World Para Swimming Allianz Championships, with three golds seeing them top the early medal table.
Titles for Reece Dunn and Tully Kearney helped make it a night to remember for the British team in home pool, while Thomas Hamer, Bethany Firth, Zara Mullooly and Suzanna Hext celebrated silver medals.
There were also bronzes for Jordan Catchpole, Toni Shaw, Jessica-Jane Applegate and Ellie Simmonds, with the five-time Paralympic champion having the honour of winning the team’s first medal.
And it was Simmonds’ success that proved pivotal in Tai’s golden moment, coming within 0.11 seconds of breaking her own S8 100m freestyle world record when stopping the clock in 1:03.77.
“I saw Ellie Simmonds’ race before mine and heard the roar when she turned for the final length,” she said.
“To hear the crowd myself, after winning, is insane. My training has come on a lot since Rio, I’ve moved programmes and that’s helped.
It's crazy. I love the home crowd - on the last length, it just pushed me on.
“I’m still adapting and hopefully by Tokyo that will make all the difference.”
While Tokyo 2020 and the next Paralympic Games are on her mind, Tai is far from done with London just yet.
Her opening gold came in an event in which she failed to qualify at Rio 2016 but with six more medal chances to come, opportunity for further silverware is certainly plentiful.
The same can be said for Dunn, winning gold in his first individual event of the week, the S14 200m freestyle.
Touching the wall in 1:52.96 saw him break a world record in the process, leading out an all-British podium which saw Hamer and Catchpole win silver and bronze respectively to the joy of the home crowd.
Reece Dunn (centre) led an all-British podium
Not that Dunn was completely convinced with his entire performance across the four-length race.
“I’m very happy. I was actually a bit annoyed with the first 50 metres, but the overall time I’m over the moon with,” he said.
“I’ve been on the para programme for six months or so. I’ve just been trying to lay down a marker for everyone in my classification and to prove myself.
“It’s the first time in the London pool – I’d never even seen it before. It’s an amazing building, the pool was gorgeous and the crowd helped me swim that time.”
There was still time for one final golden moment in the London pool with Tully Kearney becoming world champion in the S5 50m freestyle – a medal the 22-year-old feared was never possible.
I've been through so much in my career. I've had surgery under a year ago, multiple injuries, surgery. There were so many times I didn't think I'd make it.
A troublesome time out of the water was cast to one side as Kearney breezed to the wall in 36.28 seconds, 0.85s clear of teammate Hext who scooped a deserved silver.
And with the cobwebs blown off it’s all systems go for Kearney to go with two events to come – the anxiety of swimming her weakest event now firmly in the past.
She said: “I’ve been out of the pool more than I’ve trained this season. It’s absolutely amazing for me to do that.”
Medals came thick and fast for the British team – with 11 coming from the 15 in finals – with Firth and Applegate among those celebrating in the S14 200m freestyle.
Russia’s Valeriia Shabalina took victory with Firth 3.90 seconds back to earn silver, while bronze went the way of Applegate less than a tenth back from her teammate. Louise Fiddes put in a valiant swim to finish fourth.
The home crowd experience proved emotional for Simmonds
There was also bronze for Toni Shaw in the S9 100m freestyle, seeing her become a World Championship medallist at just 16 years of age, finishing in a personal best 1:03.00.
That was the same colour of medal earned by Simmonds in the first final of the week, narrowly pipping teammate Maisie Summers-Newton to the S6 400m freestyle podium.
Like Shaw, Simmonds is no stranger to success at a young age – with the five-time Paralympic champion from Beijing, London and Rio visibly emotional after returning to the scene of her sole Games triumph back in 2012.
The action continues on Tuesday with 14 Brits taking to the pool for the morning heats in a bid to reach the evening finals.
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