Australia

Aussie swimmers revel in ‘super special’ achievements at Tokyo Paralympic Games

The medal tally is a non-event for our Paralympians.

Not much emphasis is placed upon it throughout the Games, with the team very conscious about not derailing an athlete’s preparation.

“They try and keep that out of the psyche of the guys on the team. [It] doesn’t really exist,” explained five-time Paralympian Kurt Fearnley.

It is a tactic the Australian Olympic team employed to great effect during their Tokyo campaign, in which they delivered a record-equalling gold-medal haul.

Regardless, it is hard to overlook the golden achievements of the Australian Paralympic team — otherwise known as The Mob — on the first day of competition in Tokyo.

The first two gold-medal opportunities were taken by Australians. Paige Greco and Emily Petricola claimed the opening gold medals of their campaign in track cycling, breaking a few world records along the way.

Later on Wednesday evening, Australia won another seven medals in the pool — four gold, one silver and three bronze.

Long-time roommates and best friends Ben Popham and Rowan Crothers were among the gold medallists, with respective victories in the men’s 100 metres freestyle (S8) and the 50m freestyle (S10).

“The thing with the 50 freestyle in particular is you’ve just got to get everything right,” Crothers said.

“World records [and] times, frankly I don’t really care that much. 

“I’m there to do the perfect race and to do the race to the absolute best of what my body can do.”

Crothers hoisted himself onto the lane ropes, arms outstretched to the sky in celebration and relief after the race.

“In the moment, your body takes over,” he said.

“That was such an amazing moment, you’ve got to get up and claim it. Now I can say I’m a Paralympic champion.

And that pride grew moments later, when Crothers got to watch Popham surge ahead in the final metres of his final.

“It’s part of the Australian character to fight, I’m used to that feeling,” Popham said.

“Usually my race plan is to come home hard and try and chase them down. Once I turned for home, and again in that last 10 metres, I was pretty confident.

“I really did back myself. It was a cracking race.”

Ben Popham was overwhelmed with emotion following his triumph in Tokyo.(

Getty Images/NurPhoto: Ulrik Pedersen

)

Popham was a rookie on the Australian team just three years ago. Now the 20-year-old is one of the fastest men in the world.

“I think that’s been my sole focus for the last two years. Most sport psychs (psychologists) would say I was too focused on it,” Popham laughed.

Popham’s performance was so overwhelming — for himself and The Mob — that Popham burst into tears in the pool after seeing the placings.

“It meant a lot to me to pull it off,” Popham said.

Crothers wholeheartedly agreed.

“To see his progression, not just as an athlete but as a person, is just absolutely incredible,” he said.

Crothers hoped he and Popham, and the rest of The Mob could inspire the next generation of Paralympians, just as he was back in 2008 by the performances of Peter Leek, Matthew Cowdrey and Ellie Cole at the Beijing Paralympic Games.

 “[They] really inspired me to start my journey,” Crothers said.

“Now, to be able to call myself a Paralympic champion, it’s amazing to me. I hope I can have that same effect on other kids coming home now.

“Maybe there’s a few kids back home in Brissie (Brisbane) with CP (cerebral palsy) that are going to start training and targeting 2032 and racing at those Games.”


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