Paralympic champion Russell announces retirement

27 Sep 2022

Three-time Paralympic champion Hannah Russell has decided to hang up her race suit after achieving success on the international stage for more than a decade.

With a silver and bronze on her international debut at the Berlin 2011 European Championships, Hannah burst onto the para-swimming scene at the young age of 14, marking the start of a glittering career in which she attained a total of 11 titles at Paralympic, World Championship and European level.

In front of the home crowd at London 2012, the Surrey born-swimmer shone at her first Paralympic Games, kicking her campaign off with S12 400m Freestyle silver before adding a pair of bronzes. A first global gold followed at the 2013 World Championships with Russell then going on to top the podium twice at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, setting a new world record in the S12 100m Backstroke before sprinting to her second title days later in the S12 50m Freestyle event.

In the run up to Tokyo 2020, Hannah took a period of time away from the water in 2019 to focus on her mental health and wellbeing, and during this period she completed her first class Sports Science degree from the University of Salford.

Hannah Russell Backstroke
Hannah Russell at Tokyo 2020

Persevering through the challenging year and the Covid pandemic to retain the S12 100m Backstroke Paralympic title in Japan in 2021 stands out a as a ‘special highlight’ to Russell in her medal-filled career between the lane ropes, and her achievements for services to swimming were recognised in the 2022 New Year’s Honours list, with the triple Paralympic champion visiting Windsor Castle in June where the then Prince Charles presented her OBE.

Continuing to show her class among the world’s best, Russell secured a gold, two silvers and a relay bronze in Madeira this summer at her final World Para Swimming Championships, before closing out her competitive career with the opportunity to swim at a first Commonwealth Games, swimming up a class for S13 50m Freestyle silver as a visual impairment para-swimming event was included for the first time ever in the aquatics programme at Birmingham 2022.

Speaking of her retirement, Hannah said: “The time feels right for me. After three Paralympic Games and 35 international medals, finishing with a debut Commonwealth Games this summer was such an enjoyable experience - to be part of an integrated swimming team was really special, and with it being in Birmingham it meant lots of my family and friends could be there to support in the home crowd.

Hannah Russell OBE
Russell with her OBE

“In the pool, I have challenged myself both mentally and physically, working incredibly hard to get that extra one per cent needed to be the best, and from a sporting perspective I can say that I achieved everything I set out to achieve. I’m leaving the sport on a high as I move on to a new challenge, and embrace a career in primary teaching with the Department for Education.”

While the 26-year-old's time in elite competition is at an end, her passion to inspire a new generation continues, with Russell adding: “I witnessed the legacy and impact the 2012 London Paralympics had on all young children and believe inspiring grassroots sports is where our new champions will be exposed. It is vital that more visually impaired athletes are encouraged and given the confidence to take up swimming as I have always felt safe and secure in the water. It is so exciting to see the inclusion of a visually impaired relay for Paris 2024, which shows how far our sport and my VI category has progressed.

“Giving back to the sport has always been important to me. I’m looking forward to transitioning the skills I have learnt from my elite swimming career across to my teaching and making a difference in my community. My motto to all children and young people is ‘if you believe, you can achieve’.

“I’d like to thank my family who have been my rock and number one supporters throughout my whole swimming career. Thanks also to my swimming clubs Woking and COMAST, in addition to the numerous staff members at British Para-Swimming who have guided me through all the opportunities I have been so fortunate to have experienced over the past 11 years.

“Finally, to my teammates - I have created some very special friendships, ones which I hope last a lifetime - I wish them all the very best of luck for the future, and will be excited to continue supporting them from the side lines on the journey into Paris and beyond.”

Hannah Russell Rio 2016 gold [Getty]
Russell won her first Paralympic titles at Rio 2016

British Para-Swimming Head Coach Rob Aubry said: “Hannah has been an outstanding team member for British Para-Swimming over the past decade, achieving success at multiple Paralympics, World and European Championships.

“Always striving to be dedicated and resilient both in and out of the water, Hannah has served as a superb role model on international teams for younger athletes and I know she will be missed by all at her Manchester training base.

“With her backstroke Paralympic title retained in Tokyo and world records intact, Hannah undoubtedly leaves the sport on a high - we wish her all the very best as she embarks on a new chapter, and look forward to seeing her continue to succeed in her future ambitions outside of the pool."

Watch back Hannah Russell’s S12 100m Backstroke Paralympic title and world record swim from Rio 2016 on YouTube here.