2019 WORLD PARA SWIMMING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
- September 9-15, 2019
- London Aquatics Centre, London, England
- Prelims 10 a.m. local time/finals 6 p.m.
- Full results
Courtesy: Nate Williams
Britain’s Alice Tai says her stellar form at the 2019 World Para-Swimming Championships is down to concentrating on herself instead of external factors in London.
The 20-year-old from Poole, Bournemouth, in southern England has competed every day since the event started on Monday, earning a streak of four golds in the S8 100m freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and the 400m freestyle on Thursday evening.
Tai, who has bilateral talipes (commonly known as club foot), was originally in the highest physical category of S10 but was moved down in the controversial classification changes made by World Para-Swimming.
Tai was reclassified down to an S9 after her first Paralympic Games in 2016 before being moved down further in 2018. She says that at first, she felt she couldn’t compete at her true best but now, winning races is all that matters.
“When I first got moved down, I struggled a bit because for me, having been in an upper class it felt a bit awkward,” said Tai.
“I felt I couldn’t perform as good as I could because I felt bad on the other competitors. But this year, I’ve just been focusing on swimming for myself. Regardless of where I come in a race, if it’s a good swim for me then I couldn’t be more happier with that.”
USA’s Jessica Long, a 13-time Paralympic champion of the S8 category, has questioned the classification changes, saying to the BBC this week that at times she feels ‘heartbroken’ by the new introductions.
In Thursday’s 400m freestyle, Tai was behind Long but gained a good length on the turns against her American rival.
The difference coming from Tai having both her legs to push and double-amputee Long needing extra power through her upper body to try and close the gap.
“Being an amputee there’s not much I can do with the turns,” Long commented on the disparity.
“But I try to use other parts of my body like my arms or lats but that wasn’t a great race for me. On form, I’m probably 11 seconds faster and I can do that with proper training.”
She added: “My body just shuts down. That race really requires endurance and I haven’t been training for distance so I want to go back to the drawing board and start doing that.”
However, even though Tai knew the winning margin would come on the turns, she admits that was a race that really brought the best out of her.
“That one was really tough. I knew from Jess’ heat that she was capable of going sub 4:50,” said Tai, who overtook Long in 4:49.01 for gold.
“That’s a time I’ve not gone in a while so having her in front of me for the majority really pushed me and I couldn’t be happier with that outcome.
“Me and my coach (Dave Heathcock) sat down and watched her 400 just before the final and I knew her turns would be her weakest point, but her biggest strength is her swimming stroke, it’s incredible. We really try to utilize my turns, my breakouts and rotation speed.”
Tai sportingly admitted that she could possibly change class again in the future and will be next reviewed by World Para-Swimming classifiers in 2021, but this leaves her with a feeling of uncertainty.
“I am a borderline S8 slash S9 from the results of my last review so anything could happen,” Tai said.
“After Tokyo 2020, I could move back to an S9 or stay as an S8. If they (the IPC) change the system again, I could end up somewhere else. It’s all down to what the classifiers see and their decision is fine with me.”
The Rio 2016 gold medalist Tai will go for a fifth 2019 world title in the 50m freestyle on Friday.
Meanwhile for Long, her outstanding record of at least one gold medal at every major competition since the Athens 2004 Paralympics is in jeopardy. The 27-year-old has won 13 Paralympic golds and 23 world titles since 2006.
In London this week, she has finished behind Tai for silver in three of five events, while not making the podium in fourth place for two others with two events remaining.
However, Long has had other personal commitments on her mind.
“I’m getting married in a month,” she said. “This (record of gold medals) means nothing to me.”