New Paralympic stars emerge

By Chris Mitchell and Marc Woods BBC Sport

Britain's double Paralympic champion Ellie Simmonds left the pool deck on Saturday with tears in her eyes.

The 16-year-old won two gold medals and broke two world records over the week but was beaten on the final day in her favourite 100m freestyle event by her Dutch rival Mirjam De Koning-Pepper, who turns 42 next week.

Simmonds said afterwards she will go home to Swansea and train hard to make sure she defends her Paralympic crown when the rivalry is renewed in London in a little more than a year's time.

But for once, Ellie was not the star of the GB team.

Londoner Susie Rodgers outshone everyone with five golds - four individual - and proved to be a real find.

Swimming at her first major international meeting, the British Council worker displayed the nerve of a seasoned professional to beat the likes of nine-time Paralympic medallist Kirsten Bruhn from Germany.

Inspired by the athletes she saw on the BBC during the Beijing Paralympics, she is new to the elite level and, at 27, mature, level-headed and a sure-fire medal winner in London.

She is a gift to British Swimming and the organisers of next year's Games, but marketing the GB team should be no problem.

Brothers Sam and Oliver Hynd will be expected to be competing for gold next year in the same events. In Berlin they shared the honours, with Paralympic gold medallist Sam, who turned 20 last weekend, winning their tussle in the 400m freestyle.

But his 16-year-old sibling responded by beating him and stealing his European record in the 200m individual medley in their S8 category.

Sam missed last year's World Championships in Eindhoven having been involved in a near-fatal car crash - he did not look fit in Berlin but it is a wonder he is back in the pool at all.

Jonathan Fox was the best of the GB men, picking up three gold medals while Heather Frederiksen, who was swimming at her first major meet after serving a ban for doping, showed no ill-effects following her enforced absence picking up three individual top prizes. She shed tears on the final night of competition having won gold as part of the world record-breaking medley relay team.

Also part of that medley-winning team were Louise Watkin, who finished the week with eight medals, including three golds, and Stephanie Millward, who was another triple gold-medallist.

As well as Oliver Hynd, his fellow teenagers Hannah Russell and Andrew Mullen both won medals at just 14 years of age.

With a little over a year to go to the 2012 Paralympics, the British swimming team must feel pleased with their performances at the European Championships in Berlin.

A total of 83 medals, including 27 golds, from 40 swimmers is impressive, especially when you consider that experienced athletes like Sascha Kindred, Nyree Kindred (nee Lewis) and Dave Roberts were all absent.

However, while GB clearly have certain events and classifications in which they are dominant, there are several where they simply cannot find the swimmers, and countries like the Ukraine and Spain are unchallenged .

Ukraine ultimately topped the medal table with 105 medals, including 41 golds but Spain finished with an impressive 26 golds in their medal total of 57.

So what can performance director John Atkinson and his team do in the next 12 months to ensure GB is at their peak in London? More of the same is the short answer.

The British swimming team has been is one of the best prepared sporting outfits in the world for several years but - when looking at individual performances in Berlin, rather than the team as a whole - there are some skills that need considerable tidying up.

There were some sloppy finishes and poor race skills on show by both the new and more experienced athletes alike.

This might not matter so much at European Championships but in London it could mean the difference between gold and fourth place. John and his sports science team will already have given this feedback to the relevant athletes and their coaches.

However the biggest concern has to be for life beyond London 2012. GB teams across all sports, both Olympic and Paralympic, will undoubtedly see more athletes retire than at any other time in the past. And this, combined with a likely reduction in funding, is going to provide people like Atkinson with some big challenges over the coming years.

But perhaps now is not the time to discuss such things. Let's celebrate the successes. Berlin provided a useful test for the British team and they passed. Now they must look to step forward and improve once again for no one becomes leader in their field by standing still.

Top Stories