Jessica-Jane Applegate ensured a golden start to Britain's campaign at the World Para Swimming European Open Championships in Madeira with a brilliant victory in the Women's S14 200m Freestyle.
City of Norwich SC athlete Applegate claimed silver in this event at the previous Europeans in Dublin three years ago - but she always looked in control of the title this time around, an impressive feat in her first international swim since 2019, exactly 100 days out from the start of the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
After qualifying second in the heats, the Paralympic champion got herself into a substantial lead at the halfway point. Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden made sure she could not coast down the home straight with a big challenge, Applegate matching that late push to touch in 2:12.26, more than a-second-and-a-half ahead of her nearest rival for the gold medal.
“I have only been in the swimming pool for four weeks this year. I practiced a little bit this morning and when the race came I just held on in there. It was a very painful race," she said.
"It’s the first time I have swum inside of a long-course pool since 2019. It’s pretty nice to be back. I was really surprised with the result. I haven’t done much training so I’m really excited to go back to the UK to start working hard again.
“It’s really exciting. I can do this result now so I am really excited to see what I am able to do in Tokyo.”
That display capped a memorable few minutes for British athletes at the Penteada Swimming Complex in Funchal. Moments earlier, Tom Hamer had earned himself a podium spot in the Men's S14 200m Freestyle, putting together a well-judged four laps to pick up silver.
Hamer - who trains under Graeme Smith and Jonathan Fox at the National Performance Centre in Manchester - was also making his international comeback following a unique year, and he put himself right in contention at the halfway stage, leading Brazil's Gabriel Bandeira in promising fashion.
That was the case until the final turn, when the Brazilian surged to the front and went on to record victory. Russia's Viacheslav Emeliantsev just got past Hamer at the death, but the multiple European champion did more than enough to hold out for European silver, with Emeliantsev of Russia taking the gold and Bandeira winning overall.
“I was very nervous this morning going into the heats just because I haven’t raced in two years and that familiar feeling I used to have just wasn’t there – but once I finished the race I just knew how much I’d missed it and that feeling got me on it for tonight’s swim,” said Hamer.
“To get the silver and third overall I’m really happy with, I didn’t come here for medals but to get back in the process of racing and post a time. This is definitely just an icebreaker for the Paralympics, and even though Europeans wasn’t on my initial plan I’m so happy I’ve come here to get used to racing in these ‘not normal’ situations having missed out on opportunities earlier in the year.”
The Applegate-Hamer medal double is a promising platform for Britain to build on over the next week, with six other athletes ready to get their meets underway in the coming days. Applegate is back in action on Monday in the Women's S14 100m Backstroke, while Mikey Jones, Ellie Robinson, Will Perry and Abby Kane begin their European campaigns for the meet.
Check out the full schedule and stay up to date with all the coverage HERE.