Ellie Simmonds may have helped a generation of disabled people muster the confidence to get in the pool but even she found someone who inspired her at the World Para Swimming Championships, writes Tom Harle.
The five-time Paralympic champion, a beacon for her sport, has forged a glittering career but now has company. Fellow Brit Maisie Summers-Newton, 17, is the coming force in her S6 classification.
Summers-Newton took gold and a world record in the 200m individual medley, the event in which Simmonds romped to her one and only gold at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. As the teenager toasted victory, Simmonds finished fourth.
The 24-year-old draws great comfort from Summers-Newton’s presence.
“To have Maisie there with me is great,” said the Walsall-born star. “The call room is the most nerve-wracking place. Any conversation helps puncture it.
“It’s just chit-chat, how did you sleep, anything apart from the race preferably. When you’re there with six other competitors who don’t speak much English, it’s nice to have someone to put your hat on and help with goggles.
“We’re used to swimming in the next lane to each other at Nationals and all week the organisers have put us in the same heat and the next lane over.
“I know where Maisie puts her green coat and I put mine there too. It’s that simple.”
Kicking off Sunday night in style! 😎@maisiee26 produces a European Record swim of 1:33.46 in the SB6 100m Breaststroke final for silver 🥈, with @EllieSimmonds1 bettering her PB set in the heats to take bronze in 1:38.22🥉 pic.twitter.com/D58q7LSEhg— British Swimming (@britishswimming) September 15, 2019
Simmonds felt upstaged by Summers-Newton’s medley triumph. After missing out on a medal by 0.22 secs and finishing six seconds behind her team-mate, she refused to speak to media.
But she came back to claim her 34th international medal, bronze in the 100m breaststroke on the final night of racing at the London Aquatics Centre.
Sharing the podium with Summers-Newton, who claimed silver behind China’s Daomin Liu, saw Simmonds start the countdown to the Tokyo Paralympics on a heart-warming note.
“My first medal ceremony was a bit of a blur – I didn’t even have time to brush my hair and that’s important!” she said.
“I felt really low after missing the podium in the medley. I just wanted to go home. As a Paralympic champion, I couldn’t even get a medal and that was disheartening.
“There was unfinished business, but I’m so shocked to get a medal in the breaststroke. I feel a lot of pressure in the 400m freestyle and the medley, but in the breaststroke I felt really chilled and I think that helped.”