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Through the first two days of the Paralympics, there were 14 World Records broken. Still, the headline story of the swimming portion of the Games so far has been the saga of American Victoria Arlen. After much back-and-forth about whether or not Arlen would be allowed to swim, what class she should be in, and whether the IOC followed proper procedure, we got the race that the whole world had been waiting for.
Arlen vs. Britain’s Ellie Simmonds in the women’s S6 400 free. These two are the last two World Record holders, with the newcomer Arlen bursting onto the scene earlier this year to snatch that mark away from the British hero. Meanwhile, the Brits have made Simmonds the superstar of their Paralympic Team (think what NBC did with another 17-year old a few weeks ago, Missy Franklin), and there were tons of hope riding on her success.
This battle lived up to everything it was hyped to be. Both swimmers were on a tear early in this race, and both just barely missed Arlen’s World Record in the 200 free (an event not swum on the Paralympic schedule).
Arlen led for the first 300 meters, but the two made the final turn nearly-identically. Simmonds absolutely crushed the final 50 of her race, lighting up the Paralympic world with a gold medal in 5:19.17. So massive was this swim in the Paralympic perspective (which is a huge event seemingly everywhere but the United States) that her name, though misspelled, was trending globally on Twitter. This was a 2nd-straight gold medal in the event for Simmonds, now a veritable veteran after winning her first gold at only 13 years old.
Simmonds and Arlen (2nd in a new American Record of 5:20.18) both left the old World Record of 4:24.86 in the dust. This has truly been a meet to behold, and that was just the beginning on day 3.
Brazil’s appropriately-named Andre Brasil won his 2nd-straight gold medal in the S10 men’s 100 fly with a 56.35: a new Paralympic Record. He was pushed by Russia’s Dmitry Grigorev the whole race, but a superior 2nd half gave Brasil the win and his 6th overall Paralympic title. In the women’s version of that race, New Zealand’s Sophie Pascoe broke a World Record with a 1:04.43. That took almost four seconds off of her personal best from the 2010 World Championships that had been the record.
That’s now two World Records in three races so far for Pascoe at this meet, with both wins coming in dominant fashion over very good competition (she previously won the 200 IM in a World Record and by more than a 6 second margin).
Another World Record went down in the women’s SB8 100 breaststroke, where Russia’s Olesya Vladykina won in 1:17.17.
Brazil picked up a second gold medal on the day when Daniel Dias also entered the ranks of multiple-event champions in the men’s S5 200 free. He won in a new Paralympic Record of 2:27.83 against what was overall a fairly weak field. American Roy Perkins took a bronze in that race in 2:43.14.
American Brad Snyder, a former swimmer at the Naval Academy who won the 100 free on Friday, wasn’t able to double up on day 3 of this meet. He was nipped by China’s Bozun Yang, but it took a World Record to beat him. Yang won in a new all-time best of 25.27, with Snyder close behind in 25.93. That does, however, rank Snyder third on the all-time list.
In the women’s version of the race, Italy’s Cecilia Camellini became the first totally-blind woman in history to crack 31 seconds, as she also broke a World Record in 30.94.
The Americans went winless for most of this session, but really heated up as the day wore on. First, Kelley Becherer topped Canadian rival Valerie Grand-Maison in the women’s S12 50 free with a new American Record of 27.46. Two events later, Jessica Long won the SB7 women’s 100 breaststroke with a new Paralympic Record of 1:29.28. She is now a perfect three-for-three in her quest to win an amazing 9 gold medals in 10 days: the maximum number of events available to her on the Paralympic schedule.
Also in the SB7 breaststroke, swimming for the first time in the class, Amerian Mallory Weggemann was 6th in 1:43.62. That is far from her best time, but given the gravity of the reclassification that has been heaped upon her (she’s the SB6 World Record holder), still an admirable performance.
Other big wins include:
- South Africa’s Charles Bouwer in the S13 men’s 50 freestyle with a new National Record of 23.99. That’s a good forebear for his best event, the 100 backstroke, where he enters as the number-two seed.
- Australia won their 5th gold medal when Blake Cochrane broke the World Record in the men’s SB7 100 breaststroke with a 1:18.77. That gave him the win by over three seconds.
- Chinese 15-year old Yang Yang broke the Paralympic Record to win the men’s S2 200 free, the longest event on the S2 schedule, in a 4:36.18. “Only” 6 World Records went down on this day, breaking the streak.
The Paralympics always see a huge diversity of medalists as compared to the Olympics: partially because of roster limits that are relatively tiny compared to the number of events, and partially because Paralympic swimming has more global parity.
Largely the same superpowers emerge though, with China, the United States, and Australia topping the table of 25 medalists.