Tokyo Paralympics: Maisie Summers-Newton and Jaco van Goss set to inspire GB’s next generation of medal hopefuls
Maisie Summers-Newton snatched the 200m individual medley title from her hero Ellie Simmonds as Great Britain registered two swimming golds in world record times on day two of the Paralympics.
Tully Kearney also topped the podium at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, storming to victory in the S5 100m freestyle to make up for the disappointment of being denied gold in heart-breaking fashion the previous day.
Summers-Newton grew up idolising five-time Paralympic champion Simmonds, initially inspired by her exploits at London 2012.
The pair qualified first and third in the SM6 event, with compatriot Grace Harvey sandwiched in between, while Ukraine’s Yelyzaveta Mereshko laid down a marker in the other heat with a world record time of 2:56.90.
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Summers-Newton was clearly inspired by that feat and successfully lowered it to 2:56.68 just hours later.
Silver medallist Mereshko lagged 1.36 seconds behind, while GB flagbearer Simmonds – winner of this event in both London and Rio 2016 – had to settle for fifth, 7.69sec off the pace, with Harvey sixth.
Simmonds said of Summers-Newton: “She’s inspiring that next generation now.
“She’s following in my footsteps four years previously, now she’s the one.
“She’s the nicest girl in the world. I’m so happy for her. She got, I think, inspired by me and I’m sure so many people watching tonight are going to get inspired by her. She’s carrying on that and it’s amazing.
“We saw Mareshko do it this morning, I was like ‘You can do this.’ And she did.”
Summers-Newton, who – like Simmonds – has achondroplasia, said: “It’s really, really cool. Ellie is such an amazing swimmer.
“Everything she’s done for para sport is just incredible and I’ve definitely got used to racing her lots now, especially since she got back from Rio so I’m definitely used to it.
“Having her there is really supportive and comforting in a way, knowing she’s done it for such a long time. She’s such a staple in para sport.”
That intriguing battle came in the aftermath of Kearney’s moment of magic.
She stylishly shrugged off any lingering dismay of being pipped at the last by China’s Zhang Li in Wednesday’s 200m freestyle with a convincing performance.
She broke her own world record by almost two seconds, finishing in 1:14.39 as Zhang this time had to settle for second.
Kearney missed Rio because of injury and was also told by a doctor she may not swim again after her dystonia worsened.
“It’s made everything worth it. I tried not to watch Rio because it made me upset, but there were some people who I really wanted to watch and support from home,” she said.
“It was a case of thinking my dream was over and that I’d never get to a Paralympics, so to get here now and win a gold medal is crazy.”
Wounded war hero Jaco Van Gass insisted he had no regrets about serving in Afghanistan after overcoming life-changing injuries to become a Paralympic champion in world-record fashion.
Van Gass was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2009 while serving with the Parachute Regiment and lost his left arm at the elbow, as well as suffering a collapsed lung, shrapnel wounds, punctured internal organs, a broken tibia and a fractured knee, requiring 11 operations and intense rehabilitation.
His remarkable recovery reached new heights yesterday as he won C3 3000m individual pursuit gold in Tokyo on a successful day for Great Britain’s cyclists which also brought silvers for Fin Graham, Jody Cundy and Aileen McGlynn.
Van Gass broke the longest-standing world record in Para cycling at the Izu Velodrome, shaving more than nine seconds off the time set by Russian Alexey Obydennov in April 2014 by completing qualifying in three minutes 17.593 seconds.
That set up an all-British final with 21-year-old Scotsman Fin Graham who, in crossing the line in 3:19.780, also dipped below Obydennov’s effort only to be swiftly usurped by his team-mate’s superior heat. Van Gass took the spoils in the final by just over a second, finishing in 3:20.987.
McGlynn claimed Great Britain’s opening medal on day two, taking silver in the women’s B 1000m time trial with a personal best of 1:06.743.
The three-time Paralympic champion only reunited with pilot Helen Scott 12 weeks ago, having previously won a silver and bronze alongside her at London 2012.
“To be here at another Paralympic Games, to set a lifetime personal best time, to come away with another silver medal is just phenomenal,” said the 48-year-old.
“I was riding my bike last year, I wasn’t training, I was just enjoying cycling. Not specific training.
“I got back into it when Sophie retired. I was asked if I was still cycling. I was asked to come and try out at a testing day. So, I got my finger out got training again.
“There were doubts, yeah. I thought it would be tough call for anybody to get back and be ready in a year. But I thought if I don’t do it, I will always wonder. So, I gave it everything. Here I am.”