NZ Para Swimming Team set blistering pace at World Para Swimming Series meet
The New Zealand Para Swimming Team are now homeward bound returning to New Zealand after what has been a highly successful first meet of 2019. With 553 days to go until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games the Para swimmers were in blistering form setting 4 world records and placing 6th across 15 competing countries. The team of 15 Para swimmers also clocked up 29 personal best times, excitingly many of these times where achieved by new upcoming development Para swimmers.
Day one (Friday 15 February) saw Paralympians Sophie Pascoe and Cameron Leslie kick start the gold medal tally with wins in their respective 100m Freestyle events. For Leslie this was a personal best, his fastest time in this event since 2012. Added to this, Leslie set a new world record in the Men’s 100m Backstroke S4 in 1:34.42.
Development Para swimmers such as Gabriella Benn, Hannah Van Wijk and David Beck achieved great personal best times and gained valuable expertise in a highly competitive environment that included 150 Para swimmers from around the world.
The team took the opportunity on day two (Saturday 16 February) to build on their success and create a night to remember, with two gold medals, two silver medals and two world records.
Fresh from his 100m Freestyle success on Friday, Leslie got the finals session off with a bang, winning gold and swimming an S4 world record time of 1:34.42 in the Men’s 100m Backstroke. He shaved almost three seconds off the previous best of 1:37.33, held by Juan Reyes of Mexico since July 2008.
Forty-five minutes after that success, Leslie was back in the water to contest the Men’s 50m Freestyle. Despite his earlier exertions, the 29-year-old finished top of the podium for the third time in 24 hours, beating Australia’s Timothy Disken into second place, with fellow Australian Rod Welsh taking bronze.
“It’s been a busy 24 hours,” Leslie said. “Lots of races to get under my belt, but it’s awesome to be back racing again after a quiet two years. It’s nice to be back in a competitive environment.
“We’ve got a big Kiwi team here this time, with a lot of development swimmers coming over and getting internationally classified. It’s good experience for them and good to be part of this World Series event and see where the bar is at.
“I’m going year-by-year at the moment, but Tokyo is definitely in my mind and I’m looking forward to going there and competing.”
Sophie Pascoe had to settle for silver on Saturday. She finished runner-up in the Women’s 50m Freestyle and 100m Breaststroke, but her time of 28.14 seconds in the Freestyle event was a new S9 world record, beating US swimmer Michelle Konkoly’s previous mark by 0.10 seconds.
The final day (Sunday 17 February) of the World Para Swimming World Series meet wrapped up with 11 personal best times achieved by the team and two world records.
The morning session saw Pascoe once again set a world record in the Women’s 50 m Butterfly S9 in 28.76 seconds. She then went on to better her own world record in the final in a time of 28.15. Not to be outdone Paralympian Tupou Neiufi added to the world record tally by setting a new world record in the Women’s 50 m Backstroke S8 at 35.33.
Overall the New Zealand Para Swimming Team came away from this meet with some great results including placing second on the gold medal table, only three gold medals behind trans-Tasman rivals Australia. These results were made more remarkable off the back of an intensive 3-day classification review process for the majority of the 15 New Zealand Para swimmers. The Para swimmers will now continue their build to the next key event, Auckland Age Group Championships (8 – 10 March) where many will be aiming to qualify for nomination to the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships.
• As a result of changes to the World Para Swimming (WPS) Classification Rules Para swimmers have been required to undergo a classification review. A team of 15 New Zealand Para swimmers competed in Melbourne as part of the World Para Swimming Series where international classification reviews took place for the majority of the team. As a result, there were Para swimmers that changed sport class. As the National Paralympic Committee for New Zealand, Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) supported Para athletes and coaches throughout the international classification process.
• The New Zealand Para Swimming Programme is run by Paralympics New Zealand.
• Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) is affiliated to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) as the National Paralympic Committee (NPC) for New Zealand. PNZ is one of 179 NPC’s worldwide, responsible for supporting and growing Paralympic Sports in their countries. PNZ is a charity overseeing up to 22 Paralympic Sports disciplines and delivery of the High Performance Sports Programme within a number of disciplines. PNZ prepares, selects and leads New Zealand teams to international competitions and the Paralympic Games. PNZ works with athletes, members, partners and government agencies to inspire those disabled people in New Zealand society and increase awareness, understanding and acceptance of disability amongst the wider public. PNZ relies on donations, government and support from business.