Women's S14 200m Freestyle podium Manchester 2023 JJA BF JF

Brits clean sweep Women's S14 200m Free on opening night

31 Jul 2023

Jessica-Jane Applegate, Bethany Firth and Louise Fiddes took respective gold, silver and bronze in the Women’s S14 200m Freestyle to headline the opening day of the Manchester 2023 Allianz Para Swimming World Championships, with three further golds and a silver produce by British athletes on night one to kick-start the seven-day event.

It was Firth and Applegate who took the race out at the newly refurbished Manchester Aquatics Centre - exchanging the lead between each other on both the first and the second turns as the halfway stage took shape.

With the chasing pack on their hips throughout, they did well to maintain their lead down the third length, as Fiddes made her way into the fold with one turn to go.

With charges from both of the other Brits and the other athletes to her left, Applegate kept her composure to come home for the gold, with Firth and Fiddes taking respective silver and bronze. The result is a direct swap of medals between the gold and silver medallists from last year’s event in Madeira, with Fiddes claiming her second bronze medal in as many years.

It was a result that Applegate looked visibly ecstatic with when she touched the wall and saw the result – something which was further re-enforced by her words after the race.

“I feel absolutely epic - it’s been such a tough season with back injuries and everything and so to come away with gold medal means everything.

“I have to admit I didn’t have the greatest trials earlier this year so I felt lucky to be here, but I went away from those in March and absolutely crushed training - hand on heart I gave my training everything and I’m so glad that it’s paid off.

“Confidence is not my forte but I was really pleased with my heats swim and thought if I can do that in the morning, I can go faster tonight. That last length was excruciating and I just had to push through the pain - I could see Bethany on that last 25m but I gave it everything and I couldn’t believe it when the cameras zoomed in on my face.”

Jessica-Jane Applegate celebration 200 free Worlds 2023 [Getty]
Applegate was overjoyed with her win

Suzanna Hext took her first ever World Championship title with a stellar performance in the Women’s S5 50m Freestyle – getting the touch over her two competitors in the adjacent lanes to see her return to a Worlds podium for the first time since 2019.

The 34 year-old was seeded second for the one length ‘splash and dash’ following a solid showing in the heats, which saw her lined up against solid opposition with a whole host of experience at this level.

Following a start which saw her right up with the athletes at the top of the pack, she did well to bide her time and stomach the charge of China’s Lu Dong – as her and Ukraine’s Iryna Poida both made a move when the race made its way towards the flags and hit the wall simultaneously – before ultimately taking the gold medal in a new personal best time of 36.71, just two hundredths of a second ahead of Poida for the silver.

"It’s an honour to get the Great Britain team going", said Hext after she took the first medal of the competition for Great Britain.

"Hopefully that’s the first of many to come as it’s a very exciting week ahead. It’s my first time being a world champion and I’m feeling absolutely blown away at the moment as it feels surreal and I’m just trying to take it all in.

Suzanna Hext [Getty MCR23]
Suzanna Hext celebrates her gold

"The last few years have been tough, but it’s made me resilient and you have to learn to rise above it and adapt. I love what I do and the team around us, my coach, British Swimming, my family and friends – without them this wouldn’t be possible. To come away with this gold medal isn’t for me really, it’s for everyone who has helped me on the journey."

Having taken the gold last year, Stephen Clegg returned to the global stage in emphatic style to retain his world title in the Men’s S12 100m Backstroke.

Breaking the British record in the heats, the 27-year-old was the hot favourite for the gold when he lined up in lane four for the last event of the night with British representation.

Having the best start of the field and taking the lead as the race hit 15 metres, the multi-Paralympic medallist always looked in control – seeing off a challenge from Azerbaijan’s Raman Salei who was never fully out of the race from a distance perspective.

Turning in a strong time, he continued to slowly drop the field down the final length – touching for gold just outside his new record time of 1:00.01 which he set in those heats this morning.

Taking his third career gold medal on the world stage, it was an achievement which the athlete was proud of, even if he identified areas for improvement.

“I would have of liked to go a bit faster, to go sub-1 minute would have of been really nice but I maybe wen out a little bit too hard and the legs turned off at the end but I’m pretty happy with that. It’s been an up and down season so to come here and retain the title is the achievement I was after.

“I’ve got a pretty busy week and I think I’ll be a bit tired by the end of it, but I love racing and I’ve got some great competitors - Raman [Salei] is great, we always congratulate each other after each race and want the other to do well to push each other on.

“It’s a full week so I’ll enjoy this one on the podium as I’m pleased with it but the jobs not finished until day six so I’ve just got to keep on going.”

Ellie Challis made her return to the top step of a World Championship podium after successfully defending her title in the Women’s SB2 50m Breaststroke, after successfully fending off a strong challenge from Germany’s Tanja Scholz on her way to her seventh medal on the world stage.

Competing in an event with many different impairments, it was to be expected that Challis would have the best start of the field after taking to the blocks, whilst others started from the water. Whilst the gap did begin to close between her and the chasing pack, her lead did not change hands at any point during the length, with Schlolz doing her best to threaten that lead by coming within half a body length at times as the race developed.

Ellie Challis Blocks MCR23
Challis in Worlds action

For every time it looked like Challis would forfeit her lead, she put in an equally impressive increase in pace to maintain her grip on the gold before making a dash for the wall and extending her gap from the German to seal the deal and take her first medal of what looks to be a busy week for the 19 year-old.

“It’s been great to do this in front of a home crowd”, said Challis.

“I really didn’t expect it to be that fast so to miss my world record by a second and produce a seasons bests to start my busy week. Looking ahead Paris is the target and I’ve been focusing on the events I can compete in my classification there.”

“I didn’t really have any nerves, I’m just really happy to have my family here. To stand on the podium tonight with them in the crowd is going to be really nice. I saw no one but that line on the floor - I knew my position going into the race and I knew I could beat these guys it just depended on me putting in a good time so I’m really happy with it and ready to go for the rest of the week.”

William Ellard put in an exceptional performance in his race of his maiden World Championships to take the silver medal in the Men’s 200m Freestyle S14.

Following a blanket opening down the first 50 metres, in which all but one athlete turned almost in unison, it was Ellard who put in the best shift of the Brits to keep on the hips of Australia’s Jack Ireland as the race hit the halfway stage.

Holding his stroke down the third 50m, the athlete kept himself in the race for the gold with one turn to go, with the order remaining unchanged ahead of the final length.

It was with the finish line in sight where Ellard made his move – pouncing on the tired stroke of Ireland to move alongside the athlete, with Canada’s Nicholas Bennett also moving up alongside the pair.

With the swimmers just passing the flags, Bennett and Ellard both broke clear of the pack to lunge for the wall, as the latter athlete just missed out on the gold and took silver in what was one of the closest finishes of the championships so far. Jordan Catchpole also went in the final, as he went well against stiff opposition to take seventh place.

It was a result that Ellard was particularly happy with when speaking after the race, as he prepared to step onto a World Championship podium for the first time.

“I just wanted to get into the final, it’s my first worlds so I just wanted to get some experience. So to qualify first for the final and be 0.4 away from gold - I’m pretty happy with that!

“The crowd was amazing and I heard the GB team cheering on too. I wanted to bring home the gold but that just wasn’t to be today.

“It was great that the team got me classified so early this year so that I could get experience here and put focus on the big one next year in Paris.”

William Ellard S14 200free MCR23 [Sam Mellish MCR23]
Ellard impressed on his Worlds debut

Elsewhere in the event, Louis Lawlor just missed out on progressing from the heats after finishing in overall twelfth place from the heats.

Brock Whiston put in a great performance of her own in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke SB9 final, as the four-time World Championship gold medallist produced a stunning fightback down the final 25 metres to finish in fourth place, just outside of the medals.

After emerging from her breakout on the heels of those in the centre lanes, she was tasked with clawing back the ground she ceded – a task which she conducted with stark efficiency following her turn in fifth at the halfway stage.

Chasing a half-second deficit from Belgium’s Tatyana Lebrum, she upped her stroke rate as the touchpad came into the picture to sail past the athlete and take the touch in fourth place – just a tenth of a second away from the bronze.

The result is her best performance in the SB9 class, with her previous best being seventh at last year’s Championships in Madeira. Her measured improvement on her time from the heats will be another key takeaway for the 26 year-old as she continues to settle in against new competition.

Meanwhile Grace Harvey lined up for the Women’s 100m Backstroke S6 for her first event of the competition – going in a strong field of native backstrokers after putting in a strong heats showing.

It was a solid overall performance for the athlete, as she held her pace throughout the two lengths. Going into the wall, she didn’t rush any aspect of her stroke to come in for a sixth place finish to a loud cheer from the home crowd, who were vocal in supporting all of Great Britain’s athletes in what was a sold out viewing gallery.

After breaking her own British Women’s 50m Freestyle S11 record in the heats, Scarlett Humphrey was back for more in the final of the same event – going in lane eight for the sprint event in what was a stacked order.

With the 2022 & 2019 world champions, plus the Paralympic champion from 2021 in the mix, it was going to be a tough ask for Humphrey to make the podium, but it wasn’t a challenge she would shy away from.

Though and the top seeds began to pull away from the Brit at the 25m mark, Humphrey refused to waiver in her own efforts – coming in to the wall in a respectable seventh place in what was one of the most stacked fields the crowd had seen on the first night.

Sam Downie went in what was the first final of the competition – going for the medals in the Men’s 400m Freestyle S8 from lane seven.

With both athletes to his either side producing stellar efforts in their own right, he did well to dig deep and stay competitive in a race where there were surges in pace from all lanes at some point during the eight lengths.

He did make an improvement as the latter section of the race came to a close – coming off the better of a battle with USA’s Matthew Torres to his left down the final 50 metres to get his hand to the wall in seventh place, equalling his achievement in the event from the previous year.