Hannah Russell and Reece Dunn gave ParalympicsGB a golden double in the pool on Friday, both winning their events by the narrowest of margins.
Russell led from the start in the women’s S12 100m backstroke and held off the Russian Paralympic Committee’s Daria Pikalova to win by 0.32sec and retain the title she won in Rio five years ago.
“I’m so, so happy with that event,” she said. “I did struggle with my mental health two years ago so to be able to come back, train absolutely insanely hard this year … I’m delighted.
“I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. So I had a lot of help from British Swimming, my family, my friends and the support network behind me have been absolutely incredible. It’s been a massive team effort these couple of years to get me where I am today and the medal I’ve won. It’s not just mine, it’s everyone else’s at home and my coach’s and family’s.”
Russell, who took a break from the sport in 2019 and watched the world championships that year as a spectator, had led by almost a second at the halfway mark. Pikalova at one stage looked set to overhaul her but the 25-year-old clung on to claim her seventh Paralympic medal and third gold.
“With my vision impairment I don’t have any peripheral sight and my central sight I can only see up to 0.5 millimetres, so when I swim I find it really, really difficult to even judge where anyone is,” she said of the battle down the home straight. “So it’s literally me against the clock. Although on the turn, and sort of on the last little bit, I can feel the leg kick. It’s the leg kick I can feel, and I could tell that people were close to me. I just kept thinking to myself: ‘Just keep fighting, keep fighting.’ I couldn’t feel my legs in the last 15 metres but I just tried to keep going.”
Dunn’s win in the men’s S14 200m freestyle was equally dramatic, the 25-year-old holding off Brazil’s Gabriel Bandeira by 0.34sec to add a gold to the silver he won in the 100m butterfly on Wednesday.
“After the 100 fly on Wednesday I was more motivated. I had to go out strong towards the 150m,” said Dunn. “I felt great, the whole swim felt great, and then the pain came on the last half a length and I just had to hang on.”
Britain’s Bethany Firth, however, came out on the wrong end of a close finish, losing out by 0.28sec to the Russian Paralympic Committee’s Valeriia Shabalina in the women’s S14 200m freestyle. Jessica-Jane Applegate added another medal to ParaylmpicsGB’s tally with bronze in the same event.
And in the first final of the session, Britain’s Stephen Clegg also picked up a bronze in the men’s S12 100m backstroke, his first Paralympic medal and a watershed moment for the Scottish swimmer – he joins his brother James and sister Libby, who won medals in swimming and athletics respectively, in becoming a Paralympic medallist.