Swimming: Heather Frederiksen's brave recovery earns golden reward


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The Independent Online

For one night – and quite possibly one night only – Ellie Simmonds did not emerge from the Paralympic pool as Britain's star. Instead it was Heather Frederiksen, a 26-year-old driving instructor who was lying in a hospital bed in March, who shone brightest on a rewarding night for the home nation.

Frederiksen secured her second medal of the Games, with gold the result of a commanding swim in the S8 100m backstroke, surging away from Jessica Long, the American with three gold medals already to her name, over the final 50m. It meant Frederiksen defended the title she won in Beijing and has done so off the back of only six weeks training.

Towards the end of last year Frederiksen, a former British champion in open water swimming before an accident left her with limited use of her right arm and leg, began to have serious headaches. By spring she was in hospital being treated for neuralgic migraines. By the time she was released she had lost part of her sight in her right eye and the Paralympics seemed beyond her reach.

On Friday she achieved her pre-Games aim of winning a medal, any medal, when she took silver behind Long in the 400m freestyle. Long had arrived in London with hopes of winning nine golds but Frederiksen reduced that total by at least one last night. It had looked the likeliest outcome since the morning heats when Frederiksen, a friend of Rebecca Adlington from their days competing against each other in junior events, qualified four seconds clear of the field. Last night she led from the off and eased clear of Long to win by more than one and a half seconds.

On another rowdy evening in the Aquatics Centre – a venue that has bounced through the Paralympics with a noticeably more fevered atmosphere (the reason is simple enough: British success) – Simmonds took a respectable bronze in the S6 50m freestyle. "I'm happy with that," she said.

The 17-year-old had qualified fourth fastest for the weakest of her four events but snatched bronze over the last couple of strokes from the German Tanja Groepper. Gold went to Simmonds' great rival, the Netherland's Mirjam de Konig-Peper, with Victoria Arlen of the United States taking silver. Simmonds now has a break until Saturday when she will complete her programme in the 100n freestyle, and try to regain the world record Arlen took off her in June.

Stephanie Millward also collected her third medal of the Games, a silver in the S9 400m freestyle, a race effortlessly won by the great Natalie du Toit. It was the 12th Paralympic gold of the South African's career. Millward, who trains alongside Simmonds in Swansea, now has two silvers and a bronze in London.

Oliver Hynd earned his second medal in his first Paralympics, the 18-year-old taking bronze in the S8 100m backstroke in the first race of the night to add to a silver in the 400m freestyle.