Australian para-swimmer Rachael Watson has defended her Rio 2016 Paralympic Games gold medal with a Paralympic Record performance in the pool at Tokyo in the Women’s 50m Freestyle S4.
The current World Record holder from the 2017 Australian Swimming Championships, Watson also held the Paralympic Record from Rio 2016. Heading into this race in Tokyo, Watson had one thing on her mind – to defend her 50m Freestyle S4 gold from five years ago.
The Queenslander qualified for the Final after finishing fourth in the second heat with a time of 43.32 seconds which was enough to be one of eight swimmers to progress and aim for gold.
In the Final, Watson had a good start but remained behind the pace compared to her competition with Spain’s Marta Fernandez Infante leading the field at the halfway point.
Timing her run, Watson stormed home in the final 25m of the race, edging ahead and into the lead, building momentum in her strokes, her pace enabling her to finish by almost a whole body length in front of her closest opponent by the time she touched the wall.
The 29-year-old completed the swim in a time of 39.36 seconds to set, and break her own previous Paralympic Record from 2016 by 0.77 seconds.
Arjola Trimi of Italy finished second to claim silver, but set a World Record due to being classified as an S3 swimmer while Spain’s Fernandez Infante won bronze.
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Classed as an S4 swimmer in 2015, Watson was spotted by national coaches at the 2016 Australian Championships where she almost clinched the 100m Freestyle S4 World Record. A year later she broke the World Record in the 50m Freestyle S4 class.
Watson first represented Australia in 2016 at that year’s Paralympic Games in Rio where she immediately made an impact, winning gold and setting a new Paralympic Record, bettering Mexico’s Nely Miranda Herrera’s time set earlier in the day.
In doing so, she becoming the first swimmer in an S5 class or below to win gold for Australia since the turn of the millennium.
In the leadup to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, she appeared at the 2019 World Championships where she won silver in the 50m Freestyle S4 event and bronze in the 100m Freestyle S4 class.
Watson’s performance capped off a brilliant night in the pool for Australia with fellow para-swimmers Will Martin and Benjamin Hance winning gold medals in the Men’s 100m Butterfly C9 and Men’s 100m Backstroke S14 classifications respectively.
Watson’s Tokyo 2020 campaign has now come to a close, ending in the right way after last week being unable to progress through to the 100m Freestyle S5 Final – a class above which she normally races -, although she was able to post a 100m Freestyle S4 Paralympic Record from the heat.
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