Ellie Robinson spoke passionately about why a fifth-place finish in the Women’s S6 50m Butterfly final meant so much to her on day six at Tokyo 2020, five years on from her iconic victory at Rio 2016.
Robinson finished a mere 0.25 seconds off the podium at the end of a hotly-contested race, after the butterfly specialist displayed her characteristic reactions off the blocks to start the race strongly.
After touching in 37.08, the world, European and Commonwealth medallist used her post-race interview to explain why just making it into the Paralympics GB squad and then going on to book a lane for the final is one of the proudest achievements of her decorated career after an ongoing injury struggle.
“I have had the most difficult year. I’m not going to claim I have suffered the most this year with everything everyone has had during the pandemic, but in sporting terms with my hip, I have Perthes disease in my right hip. I like to think these hips have a finite amount of time left in them, and for me, that just so happened to be last year that I ran out of time,” she said.
“I think had the Games been last year, it would’ve been a very different story. I was swimming incredibly well, I was so happy with my training – but obviously the pandemic came. For every right reason, training was postponed, everything was put on hold, but that meant my hip did run out of time.
“So I am incredibly proud to get here. There were times where I was struggling to think I’d even get to the Games. I remember saying, ‘if I have to crawl to the block on my hands and knees, I will get there’. Even though I have deteriorated physically, my hip is in a very bad way, I think that I am mentally stronger than ever. I am so proud of where I am.
“I don’t want this to be a story of sorrow and heartbreak and struggle, I want this to be a story of triumph, because it is. I proved to myself that I had it in me. I did what wanted to do and finished on my own terms.
“Even if I were to have won a medal at this Games, the medal wouldn’t represent my ranking at all. It was always going to represent the past five years, it was always going to represent the last year and the struggle. Even though I don’t have that with me, I am still so proud because I have everything that I need – I have the kit, I have the accreditation, I have this interview right here to show that I got through the past year.”
Grace Harvey, a silver medallist from the SB5 100m Breaststroke, placed 21st overall in the S6 50m Butterfly.
Meanwhile, given this swim came on her 20th birthday, it is remarkable to remember that Robinson was only 15 when she won two medals at Rio 2016.
This time around, Ellie Challis is the young, first-time Paralympian gaining valuable experience on the sport’s biggest stage – and she came close to a second podium in as many days as she finished fourth in the Women’s S3 100m Freestyle.
Fresh from a brilliant silver in the S3 50m Backstroke on Sunday, the 17-year-old fell narrowly short of her own British record in the final. Lining up in lane six, she kept herself in bronze medal contention for much of the race, thanks to her eye-catching speed of stroke, only for Iuliaa Shishova of the Russian Paralympic Committee to pull just clear down the final 25m.
“I would’ve liked better, I would’ve liked to go faster than I did this morning. It is what it is, we’ve got World Championships next year so I can look on to when I get to race this event again. I had such a good swim yesterday, I’m still happy with my time here, I’ve still got races to go, I’ll be racing up a classification which will be fun. I’m still really happy,” said Challis.
“The whole experience has been good, being in the village, everything. I’m 17, I’m here for experience. We’ll learn, we’ll go to Worlds next year and then Paris 2024!”
In her fourth Paralympic Games, Stephanie Millward took her place in a remarkable 18th Paralympic final after a strong heats swim in the Women’s S9 100m Backstroke.
Racing in an outside lane, Millward placed eighth in the final, a touch off her heats swim – before providing her usual motivation and inspiration in her post-race interview, the Bath University athlete hoping more young people will become involved in para-swimming off the back of Paralympics GB’s Tokyo successes.
“I loved that. I know I came eighth, but I loved it. I enjoyed the whole race – it feels horrendous afterwards, but you do it because you love the sport, and I love swimming backstroke,” she said.
“We need more young people coming to join the para-swimming squad, more young people to come in and give it a go! If you’ve got a disability, get in the pool, come and swim with us – we want to inspire the next generation. I always say to the team, just believe in yourself, always. Be the best you can on every single race. Keep on enjoying it, just keep on smiling the whole way through.”
Andrew Mullen, meanwhile, placed seventh in a strong Men’s S5 100m Backstroke finale, dropping time from his heats swim.
Indeed, his time of 37.96 was a mere two hundredths of a second slower than his effort to take silver at Rio 2016, a sign of how this event and classification have progressed in the intervening years. Mullen, though, has continued to compete at this highest of levels.
“I’m pleased. This meet has been a different sort of meet for me, I’ve not had the best preparation with time away and lockdown. I’m just really happy to be out here, competing and progressing from heats to finals,” he said.
“It’s a super tough category. In life, it’s always important to seek out challenge – it’s what makes us grow and develop. For me, swimming is a worthwhile challenge, regardless of how tough the category is.”
Lyndon Longhorne missed out on the Men’s S4 200m Freestyle final by a single place – but that did not stop him from smashing yet another British record as he continues to go from strength to strength in the pool.
The Derwentside ASC man, making his Paralympic debut in Tokyo, went a massive 12 seconds under his own previous best British mark, clocking a 3:25.12.
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