Ellie Simmonds leaves Paralympics with inspiring legacy intact

There’s no danger of her shuffling off into obscurity, but after finishing fifth in the 400m freestyle Simmonds announced her retirement from the sport

Tom Harle
Tokyo
Thursday 02 September 2021 16:32
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<p>Ellie Simmonds has announced her retirement from the Paralympics </p>

Ellie Simmonds has announced her retirement from the Paralympics

How Ellie Simmonds started and how she’s going couldn’t be more different.

From a 13-year-old agog at her achievements in Beijing to a 26-year-old wrestling with a legacy of inspiring a generation, Simmonds has spent half of her life in the public eye.

There’s no danger of her shuffling off into obscurity, but after finishing fifth in the 400m freestyle Simmonds announced her retirement from the sport.

“I think this is going to be my last. I’ll go home and evaluate,” she tearfully told Channel 4. “To think as an eight-year-old, watching Athens 2004, that I would not just go to one Games but four.

“To go to a home Paralympics, to come away with eight Paralympic medals and being part of that Paralympic movement as well. So I think for me, yes, this is going to be my last but I will go home and evaluate.

“I’m not just saying it because I’m gutted or anything like that. I knew going into these Games this was going to be the last. I don’t think I could go for another three years. I’m leaving it at the right time, I love it, I’ve absolutely had a wonderful competition and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

After coming second in her morning heat Simmonds said she would give her all in “one final race” and that is how it would prove, her final Paralympic chapter.

Her Tokyo focus rested on the 400m freestyle, one of her defining disciplines, which she won in Beijing and London and took bronze in Rio.

She never looked like taking a fourth successive medal, with the eventual top three quickly stealing a march and teammate Maisie Summers-Newton overtaking her.

Simmonds’s time split wasn’t shown at 100m and it turned out that was because judges ruled she hadn’t touched the wall on that turn and disqualified her.

The British team defiantly appealed, which after an hour’s wait was successful and she was reinstated into fifth place.

It was an apt metaphor for the emotional rollercoaster Simmonds has been riding in recent years, turning it around having “hated” the sport that made her name at Rio 2016.

There was no gold, or medal of any colour, in Tokyo but after taking a year out in 2017 to travel the world, this is a happier Simmonds at peace with the maelstrom around her.

“I can’t thank everyone enough for the support, my coach, my parents, my sister, family, everyone, for getting me to these Games and helping to get me to four Paralympics which is amazing,” she said.

“I love it. There are no words to describe it. I love the Paralympics and I love absolutely everyone on the team, it’s just been incredible but I’m looking forward to going home. One thing about these Games is you don’t have your family and loved ones in the crowds.

“For me they’re like my comfort blanket, even though I’ve been going for so many years. Having them there in the crowd is a big thing for me. Not having them here. Especially Billy [Pye], he is my rock, he is not just my coach, he is my best friend.

“Not having him here has been hard for me. The support of British Swimming has been amazing. Being with Maisie who is outstanding. I could stand here for hours and thank those who have helped me.”

Summers-Newton is a monument to Simmonds’s impact – but so are the countless hundreds who attend the Dwarf Sports Association, including powerlifting bronze medallist Olivia Broome and Jack Shephard, who must win his final group match on Friday morning to stand a chance of reaching the badminton semi-finals.

You sense that, on the field of play at least, it is a mantle she is happy to give up in exchange for a bit of normality.

“It has been an amazing part to play – inspiring that next generation,” she said. “I am honoured. It makes me emotional to think that Maisie and Ellie, all those guys and girls, were inspired by watching me in 2012. Now they are inspiring the next generation.”

It was a dramatic night for Britain in the pool, with Bethany Firth blasting to a third successive Paralympic title in the 100m backstroke S14.

The 25-year-old from County Down, who won her first at London 2012 representing Ireland, continued her dominance with victory by nearly a second.

“It was they event I’ve been focusing on all week so to come away with gold, I’m over the moon,” said Firth, who was joined on the podium by Jessica-Jane Applegate in bronze medal position.

“I really wanted to come out and take my title, so I’m over the moon. You can’t say there’s no pressure on you, so I spoke to my psychologist who helped me understand why I’m here.

“I came out and enjoyed it, and that shows in swimming, when you’re enjoying it you can really thrive.”

Sainsbury’s is a proud supporter of ParalympicsGB and a champion of inclusive sport for all. Sainsbury’s commitment to helping customers to eat better has been at the heart of what we do since 1869. For more information on Sainsbury’s visit www.sainsburys.co.uk/ and https://paralympics.org.uk/

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