Four years ago as Ellie Simmonds was preparing for her first Paralympics final, she turned to her coach, Billy Pye, and burst into tears. The then 13-year-old, overcome with nerves, told him she did not want to race. Last night the nerves were there again, gnawing at her as she waited to step out poolside in the Aquatics Centre, but this time there were no tears, instead a relentless swim in the 200m individual medley that hunted down the pacesetters and secured her second gold of these Games, and already the fourth of her career.
The first in London had arrived on Saturday when, after touching to claim first place, she ducked her face into the water to hide the tears that quickly followed. This was different, the raw emotion kept in check but not at a cost to her performance. She accelerated down the final length not only to win by a 9sec margin from Germany's Verena Schott but also to claim yet another world record in this pool.
Five times she has climbed on to the blocks and four times she has come out of the water with a world record.
Like Rebecca Adlington, who confesses to being almost overcome with nerves pre-race, Simmonds has learnt to channel them. They have become a part of her race. "It's always good to have my emotions going because that's what gets me going to the best of my ability," said Simmonds.
"I like to be nervous – that's what gets my adrenalin going. On Saturday it was 50-50 whether I was going to get that medal so when I touched was quite emotional. It was such a tough race. I show my emotions in different ways, tonight I'm just so excited and pleased."
It was a contrasting swim to Saturday, which was a stroke-by-stroke battle with the American Victoria Arlen in the 400m freestyle that she won only over the last few metres. Yesterday morning in the 200m IM heats Simmonds broke the world record – to her surprise, as her target had "only" been the Games mark – and there was never much doubt who would top the podium last night.
There she was presented with her medal by David Cameron, the Prime Minister attracting the first boos heard in the Aquatics Centre, though later there were cheers for Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.
Simmonds was joined by fellow Briton Natalie Jones, a distant bronze winner. "As a competitor she's second to none," said Jones, who was watched by her husband Rik Waddon, a cycling silver medallist the previous day. "She's flippin' hard, really hard. It's great for the Paralympics and fantastic for us swimmers. The crowd has been phenomenal all week and that is because of her."
The medley is a difficult Paralympic race to assess as it unfolds, because of the athletes' differing levels of disability. Ukraine's Oksana Khrul has a strong breaststroke and so built what appeared a commanding lead. Khrul held a 5sec advantage over Simmonds when the field turned into the last length, the freestyle, but the 17-year-old Briton shot down the final 50m in 39.87sec, touching in 3min 5.39sec and wheeling round to look at the giant scoreboard where familiar letters shone alongside her name, WR.
Simmonds is back in the pool this morning, in the 50m freestyle heats. The final is tonight and may prove the toughest of her desired four golds. Arlen and her long-time Dutch rival Mirjam de Koning-Peper need to be beaten in an event in which Simmonds holds the world title – but, crucially, one won before Arlen emerged. Her fourth and final event, the 100m freestyle and another duel with world record holder Arlen, is on Saturday.
"It was nice after my 400 that people were wishing me well but at this point in time I need my privacy, I need my space, I need to focus on my races," said Simmonds, reflecting on the acclaim that has come her way – a new-found popularity that sends the PM hurrying down to the pool.
Her partnership with Pye is crucial to keeping the distractions shut out. Pye, a former Maesteg coalminer, has coached for the last six years. It is Pye who constructs her nine two-hour training sessions a week in Swansea, and perhaps more importantly it is Pye who helps channel those emotions into performances like last night's.
There was a silver for Sascha Kindred in the SM6 200m IM. The Briton was left trailing by a remarkable swim from China's Xu Qing, who not only took 7sec off his heat time but also stripped Kindred of his world record. Susie Rodgers took bronze in the S7 100m freestyle and collected another one, along with Stephanie Millward, Claire Cashmore and Louise Watkin, in the women's 100m freestyle relay.