Decorated Paralympian Ellie Cole will compete in a freestyle relay for the ages as Australia’s swim team prepares for the duel in the pool, writes LACHLAN McKIRDY.
History will be made at Duel in the Pool this weekend with a world first of combined able-bodied and para-athlete swim relays.
When the highly anticipated return of the Australian-American swimming showdown was announced earlier this year, it was confirmed that para events would be included in the schedule for the first time.
Paralympic legends Ellie Cole and Matt Levy were included in the Dolphins squad announced last week, meaning Sydney Olympic Park will host the final encounter before they retire.
However, for Cole in particular, his low-key training was kicked up a notch with the confirmation of a mixed multi-class/able-bodied 4x50m relay.
It will see two able-bodied swimmers and two para-swimmers, one of each gender, compete in a relay team for the first time at a major international event.
“It’s so exciting,” Cole told CODE Sports.
“I was sitting by the pool at the Commonwealth Games and saw mixed relays in the able-bodied team and wondered why there wouldn’t be para and able-bodied relays?
“I think it perfectly illustrates the relationship that our Paralympic team has with our Olympic swimming team. We saw how special it was at the Commonwealth Games.
“So it will be a world first. I think Swimming Australia has probably been the world standard when it comes to para-integration.
“I think this is just the next step to show the rest of the world what we are doing with the sport in Australia and hopefully encourage other countries to join us and carry on.”
With the leaderboard being for S9 athletes, 21-year-old Will Martin is likely to be the other Australian para-swimmer to compete in the event.
The Dolphins team for the event is star-studded, meaning there’s every chance Cole and Martin will be swimming alongside Emma McKeon, Shayna Jack, Cody Simpson or Matt Temple.
It’s only fitting that Cole could swim in the race in the final encounter before her retirement, as it’s something she’s wanted her entire career.
“I always dreamed of this happening for a while. I used to train with the Campbell sisters, so I’m used to doing stint changes in able-bodied bodies,” Cole says. .
“I think it’s going to be exciting for the crowds that are there. There will be so many young children taking part in this event who will be delighted to see some of Australia’s swimming superstars. And it will mean a lot to them to see disabled people in the same race as able-bodied people.
“That kind of social inclusion that you don’t see very often that really sets the standard. I think sport is a great platform to showcase positive social inclusion.
The last duel in the pool in Sydney in 2007 saw the excitement of the mixed relay with Libby Lenton taking on Michael Phelps in a memorable final. Although not an officially recognized event by FINA at the time, it has since become one and is on the program of the Tokyo Olympics and Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
If the new para/valid relay is a success this weekend, there is every chance that we could see the event at the Commonwealth Games in the future where the integration of athletes has already proven its worth.
While Cole is excited about the prospect of the race opening up Para-swimming to more fans, her focus is now solely on winning the race and creating history for this Australian team.
“We have such a strong swimming team, I don’t want to sound overconfident, but I think when you stand next to Emma McKeon who has won pretty much every event at the Commonwealth Games, the confidence is definitely going to be there,” Cole said.
“I think it’s definitely going to rekindle that rivalry between the United States and Australia that’s been dormant for so long, but has always been there. It’s going to send it into the stratosphere.
The encounter begins Friday morning with a 4x800m open water relay event at Bondi Beach before the action moves to Olympic Park on Saturday evening.