In what was a golden night in the pool for the Australian Paralympic Team, the night saw the two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist overcome a difficult lead-in to the Paralympics to capture a historic gold medal.
The Paralympics Australia swim team has begun their Tokyo Games campaign with an impressive haul of eight medals from the opening night of competition, including four gold medals, one silver and three bronze.
Amongst the gold medal winners were two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Lakeisha “Lucky” Patterson, who won the Women’s 400m Freestyle S9 event as she continues to build her legend in Australian swimming history.
Lucky began swimming at the age of three as part of her rehabilitation to overcome muscle stiffness brought about by having early-onset Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and cerebral palsy left hemiplegia, but became a star of the pool at an early age.
Debuting as a 15-year-old at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Lucky won bronze in the Women’s 100m Freestyle S8 event, providing valuable experience to the youngster, experience she took into the Rio 2016 Paralympics where she won six medals at the Games, including gold in the 400m Freestyle S8 event.
With a wealth of experience heading into the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, Lucky was a medal favourite at the Games and showed the composure of a champion to win both the 50m and 100m Freestyle S8 events.
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But the champion faced a new challenge heading into the Tokyo Paralympics, facing the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the champion’s preparation being disrupted, her training pool closed due to government lockdowns, Patterson had to adapt by training in neighbour’s backyard pools and the open ocean.
It didn’t stop the champion from qualifying for her second Paralympic team, but she faced another challenge in the weeks before Tokyo, battling illness which has reduced her normally packed schedule to just the 400m Freestyle event and a relay team.
With her focus on the 400m, the pressure was on for Lucky.
Taking out an early lead, Lucky led through the opening seven lengths of the pool but found herself in a battle in the final 50m against Hungarian opponent Zsofia Konkoly.
The Hungarian took a narrow lead but Lucky displayed her brilliance to touch just ahead to capture her third career Paralympics gold medal.
Speaking after the race, Patterson said she knew it was going to be a fierce final.
“It was such a tight race, and I knew it was going to be a really tough one,” she told Channel 7.
“I knew I had to attack it from the start, and I could briefly see out of the corner off my eye to the left in that last 50 metres how close the Hungarian was.
“I knew that I had given it everything I could, and I was thinking back to all those training sessions. I’m fortunate to train with a really incredible squad, so just kicking back into what I did at training and try and fight for that final lap.”
Patterson touched ahead of Australian Paralympic champion Ellie Cole, who finished fourth in the final.
In the first event of the night, the Men’s 400m Freestyle S9, saw youngster William Martin take an early lead in the race and hold on to claim his first gold medal, finishes ahead of his friend Alex Tuckfield who claimed the bronze medal.
Reigning Paralympic champion and three-time Commonwealth Games medallist Brenden Hall recorded the fastest time he has swum in three years to place fourth in the fast race.
Congratulations to William Martin on winning gold in the Men’s 400m Freestyle S9 for the @AUSParalympics team! 🏊♂️🇦🇺🥇💚💛
— Commonwealth Games Australia (@CommGamesAUS) August 25, 2021
A shocked Martin couldn’t believe he’d become a Paralympic champion.
“I was in front and that’s just the way that I wanted to keep it. I’m pretty ecstatic. I got this medal, so I’m really happy,” he told Channel 7 following the race.
Glasgow 2014 gold medallist Rowan Crothers gave one of the moments of the night when he gave it everything to win the Men’s 50 Freestyle S10 event, his first Paralympics medal.
Fellow Australian Tom Gallagher also pulled out a brilliant performance and new personal best to see him place fifth overall in his first Paralympic final.
After watching his best mate Rowan Crothers win gold in the previous race, Ben Popham was inspired to do the same and took home Australia’s fourth gold medal of the evening in the Men’s 100m Freestyle S8.
🥇 GOLD FOR BEN POPHAM 🥇
A golden way to end the day, Ben Popham secured himself gold in the 100m free S8 in a blistering time of 57.37 ⚡
— Australian Swim Team (@DolphinsAUS) August 25, 2021
It was an impressive swim from Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games medallist Paige Leonhardt winning silver in the Women’s 100m Butterfly S14, touching ahead of Australian teammate Ruby Storm who claimed bronze.
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The medals kept flowing for the Aussies on night one, with Games debutant Ben Hance snaring bronze in the Men’s 100m Butterfly S14, with Kurt Fearnley Scholarship recipient Ricky Betar finishing a valiant eighth in his first Paralympics final.
It was a golden day for the Australian Paralympic team at the Izu Velodrome, with gold medals and world records to Paige Greco and Emily Petricola on the opening day of the track program.
Greco set a new world record of 3:52.283 in Women’s C1-3 3000m Individual Pursuit qualifying before smashing her new mark again in the final to claim gold.
Petricola took gold in the Women’s C4 3000m Individual Pursuit over United States’ Shawn Morelli after overtaking the American at the 2250m mark, to claim Australia’s second gold medal in consecutive events.
Just before Petricola’s gold medal ride, teammate Meg Lemon narrowly missed out on the bronze medal.
With thanks Paralympics Australia, Swimming Australia and AusCycling.