July 29, 2022 11:50 PM
Sophie Pascoe celebrates with her gold medal. Photo/Getty
By Kris Shannon in Birmingham
If this happens to be the last time Dame Sophie Pascoe is seen at a major event, she emerged from the pool in triumphant, familiar fashion.
The 19-time Paralympic medalist came to Birmingham, watched a program featuring a solo event and appropriately conquered the S9 100m freestyle to claim Commonwealth Games gold today.
His victory capped a successful opening session for the New Zealand swim team, after Jesse Reynolds took silver in the men’s S9 100m backstroke final.
Pascoe has made no guarantees one way or another about his future, and at 29, he may well choose to continue racing with Paris in sight in two years.
But given how grueling she found the Tokyo Olympics – part of the reason for a reduced schedule in Birmingham – it wouldn’t be a surprise if she stepped away from competitive sport.
“If this was the last one, then I gave it my all, and if it’s not, here comes Paris,” an emotional Pascoe said moments after her win. “I’m super proud of myself for getting here and getting through everything.”
That adversity, rather than possible thoughts of retirement, was the main trigger for Pascoe’s post-race tears.
There was a covid outbreak when he felt in “good shape” before the Games. And, much more painfully, Pascoe recently lost his grandmother, a figure who had played an integral role in his life in and out of the pool.
“I watched a video of her this morning just to hear her laugh and remember what she would say to me before a race,” Pascoe said, struggling for words. “That was really hard today, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to contact her between the heats and the finals, which is what I usually do. This one is for her.”
And if it’s the latter, Pascoe acknowledged a bittersweet symmetry in his career, having dedicated his first medal to his late grandfather.
The award was also appropriately timed in another way, given that his fifth Commonwealth Games gold came moments after Reynolds won his first major medal.
Sophie Pascoe competes at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Photo/Getty
Pascoe had sounded excited before the Games about her new role as “camp mom” with the New Zealand team, mentoring another group of able-bodied and para-athletes.
It’s easy to imagine her sliding gracefully from the water and taking on a supporting role in her sport, having nothing else to prove.
Her victory at the Sandwell Aquatics Center saw her spend 14 years at the top of paraswimming, leading from start to finish with a time of 1:02.95, beating Australia’s Emily Beecroft by 0.79s.
Pascoe said the last 10 yards, when it really started to hurt, was when she knew her nanny was with her, and she held back when the topic of a proper goodbye came up again.
“Look, I really shouldn’t say that. The goal was to take each year as it comes and I’m going to re-evaluate life after this. Whether I go back in the pool or not…I wouldn’t.” say this is my end in the pool for sure.
Meanwhile, Reynolds should also have a few races left, but he admitted that before tonight he had been worried that he would eventually be left without a big reward for his hard work.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” said the 25-year-old, who posted a pair of fourth-place finishes at the Gold Coast. “It’s just a routine every day, and finally bringing something home to show off is such a good feeling.
“Part of me was thinking that I could walk away from my swimming career having never won a major international medal, so to know that I did it is really cool.”
Earlier in the afternoon session, 18-year-old Erika Fairweather barely managed to make it onto the 200m freestyle podium, finishing fifth with a personal best time of 1:57.08.