Image: Wade J Brennan
Australia’s best Para-swimmers have made a sensational return to competition at the Melbourne 2022 Para Swimming World Series.
In the first major meet for the Australian Dolphins and future Dolphins since the Tokyo Paralympics last August, Australia’s best Para-swimmers did not disappoint.
Tokyo bronze medallist Keira Stephens has dominated the pool and set her sights on the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The 18-year-old claimed three gold medals at the meet, including the women’s 50m freestyle splash and dash, which she won in 29.81.
“I’m happy with another win and another strong performance after racing many events,” Stephens told Paralympics Swimming.
Stephens upgraded the bronze she won in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB9 in Tokyo for a gold.
She held off a strong challenge from her training partner Ruby Storm (S14) to win the multi-class final in 1:19.37.
Her hattrick came in the women’s 200m individual medley where she shaved three seconds off her time in the heats to hit the wall first in 2:36.77.
“I’m excited the IM is in my events for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham,” Stephens said.
“I’m practising racing the event while continuing to focus on the 100m breaststroke.”
The women’s 200m individual medley SM10 will be on the program at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Sprint star Benjamin Hance led the way with a hattrick of gold medals at the three-day event, which started on Friday (18 February) at the Melbourne Sports Complex.
Hance repeated his gold-medal winning performance in the 100m backstroke SB14 in Tokyo with another top podium finish in the multi-class race.
The Paralympic champion landed just outside his world record time to win in 57.67.
The 21-year-old also dominated in the 100m butterfly where he swapped the bronze he won in Tokyo for gold when he hit the wall in 57.03.
The third victory came on the last day in the 200m freestyle in 1:58.94.
The second leg of the 2022 World Series was an important part of the athletes’ preparations for the upcoming Australian national trials.
The event in April is ahead of the World Para Swimming Championships in Madeira and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“The more I can race between now and the trials and make the most of being healthy, the better,” sprint king and Glasgow 2014 gold medallist Rowan Crothers said.
The double Tokyo Paralympic champion had a dream start to his 2022 campaign with victory in two races.
The 24-year-old repeated his Games win in the fast and furious men’s 50m freestyle.
The S10 swimmer edged out his Tokyo 2020 teammate, Tom Gallagher, to hit the wall in 24.12.
A second gold landed in the men’s 100m freestyle.
The silver medallist from Tokyo in the event led from the start to finish in 54.19, Gallagher was close on Crothers’ heels again to take silver.
Three-time Paralympic gold medallist and Gold Coast 2018 champion Matthew Levy took out the men’s 50m breaststroke SB6 in 37.74, then also went on to win gold in the men’s 100m breaststroke in 1:23.08.
He held off an impressive challenge from his training partner Tim Diskin (SB9), who took silver.
It was a great start to the season for many more of the host nation’s athletes.
Storm, a Paralympic bronze medallist, won two golds at the meet.
In the women’s 200m freestyle the S14 swimmer led a formidable field to finish in 2:17.24.
In the women’s 100m butterfly she landed just ahead of another training partner, Emily Beecroft (S9), in 1:09.73.
Storm said later that she was “excited to race and very happy to get the win considering the big block of training I am currently in”.
Women’s 200m freestyle S14 will be on the program at the Birmingham Games.
But not to be outdone, Beecroft got on top of the podium in the women’s 50m butterfly where she led from the front to finish in 31.78.
Two-time Commonwealth Games silver medallist Timothy Hodge was also in excellent form in the men’s equivalent of the race.
The Tokyo silver medallist landed first in 4:21.89.
Hodge also secured a second victory in the men’s 200m individual medley in 2:15.97.
“I’m happy to be back racing after a hectic Games preparation in 2021,” he said.
“I’m just finding my groove with my new coach and was focusing on the little things in the IM. With no real goal time, I just wanted to execute the skills and was surprised with the good time.”
Rising star Jenna Jones also impressed in the women’s 100m freestyle.
The S12 swimmer had a strong heat and set a blistering pace in the final to hit the wall first in 1:04.39.
Her namesake Ella Jones (S8) shaved four seconds off her time in the heats to claim gold in the women’s 400m freestyle in 5:16.19.
Madeleine McTernan (S14) got ahead of the field in the women’s 100m backstroke to win in 1:11.17.
And there was also a clean sweep in the 50m backstroke with Jesse Aungles (S8) taking the men’s title in 33.97 and Hannah Price (S9) in the women’s in 35.68.
Gold Coast gold medallist Aungles said after his race: “It’s great to be back at a World Series event and catching up with my teammates from Tokyo. I am still getting back into regular training and the racing, and the connection here with our team has been a fun experience.”
Melbourne 2022 was organised by Swimming Australia. Complete results can be found here.
There were nearly 40 swimmers from five countries competing in the second leg of the World Series, which was held as part of the Victoria Open Swimming Championships.
There are five stops in the World Series 2022.
The first leg in Aberdeen started on Thursday (17 February) and also finished on Sunday (20 February).
The next stop will be in Lignano Sabbiadoro, in Italy, from 11 to 13 March, followed by Berlin, Germany, from 31 March to 3 April, and ends in Indianapolis, USA, from 7 to 9 April.
The World Para Swimming Points System is used at the World Series competitions to calculate athletes’ results.
At the end of the season the top female and male swimmers are declared season winners.
The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will feature 14 Para-swimming medal events:
Men’s 100m Backstroke S9
Women’s 100m Freestyle S9
Men’s 50m Freestyle S13
Women’s 50m Freestyle S13
Men’s 100m Breaststroke SB8
Women’s 100m Backstroke S8
Mixed 4x100m Freestyle Relay S14
Men’s 50m Freestyle S7
Women’s 100m Breaststroke SB6
Men’s 100m Butterfly S10
Women’s 200m Individual Medley SM10
Women’s 200m Freestyle S14
Men’s 200m Freestyle S14
Mixed 4 x 100m Medley Relay 34 Point