More British gold medals came with a tinge of poignancy in the pool on Saturday as one generation of Paralympic heroes gave way to another. Maisie Summers-Newton won her second gold of the Games in the SB6 100m breaststroke, setting a Paralympic record time of 1:32.34. She also claimed her second emphatic victory in a week over Ellie Simmonds, a woman Summers-Newton describes as “an icon of para-swimming”, who finished some distance behind her in fourth.
The 26-year-old Simmonds is competing at her fourth Games and has recently spoken of the struggle she feels living up to expectations and the physical challenges of continuing to compete. She races again in the 400m freestyle on Thursday, and it would not come as a surprise if that was the last time she competed on the Paralympic stage.
For the 19-year-old Summers-Newton, however, the story is only just beginning. She held off a determined challenge from the Chinese world record holder Liu Daomin in the second length to win by 0.04 of a second and prove her mettle on the toughest of stages.
“It’s just incredible,” Summers-Newton said afterwards, with the 100m triumph after her world-record performance in the 200m individual medley on Thursday. “Nerves were pretty high before the medley as I didn’t really know what to expect but after that I’ve just been on such a high. Tonight I was just so excited and ready to race off the back of what happened in the medley. I just really wanted to enjoy it too because I had no pressure on me for these two so I think that definitely helped.”
Summers-Newton acknowledged she had been in a fight to the finish with the experienced Liu.
“The last 25 metres is definitely the most important because you just want to touch the wall first,” she said. “I kept looking out the side of my goggles and just thinking: ‘Please don’t catch up to me!’ But when I saw how close I was to the wall I just gritted my teeth and tried to get there first and it worked.”
Of Simmonds, Summers-Newton acknowledged the influence of the London 2012 star not only on herself, but the sport as a whole.
“She has been such an icon for para-swimming since her first games in 2008 and then the incredible things she did in 2012,” Summers-Newton said. “She’s inspired people like me and I’m sure all the other athletes here.
“I think at the start I was like, woah, starstruck because she’s such a great athlete but I’ve raced with her loads of times now. She’s definitely such an amazing friend and again an amazing athlete, it has just been incredible to race against her every time.”
Summers-Newton will also race in the 400m freestyle and will surely now be favourite for a third title. After that, however, her debut games will be over and she too will have to get used to the expectations that became all too familiar to Simmonds.
Her immediate target is “definitely to go home and relax. That’s a really important part, to rest up as an athlete because it’s so good for you physically and mentally but after this I’ll reset my goals again and hopefully go for Paris.”
The excitement did not end with Summers-Newton, however, with a silver for Harvey Grace in the SB5 100m breaststroke following shortly afterwards. Then, in the final race of the day, there was a dominant world record-breaking performance from the mixed 4x100m freestyle team.
Led off by a strong opening leg from Reece Dunn, and followed by a defiant leg from Bethany Firth who was competing against two male swimmers in the leading pack, an astonishing leg from Jessica-Jane Applegate set up Jordan Catchpole to dominate in the final 100m. Britain’s time of 3:40.63 was a full 5.75sec clear of the silver medallists, Australia.