Photos: courtesy of Delly Carr and Swimming Australia.
When Lakeisha Patterson touched the wall at the end of women’s 400m freestyle S9 final in Tokyo and turned to see the light on her block, she knew the five years of hard work leading up to that moment had been worth it.
She won gold, but didn’t know it for certain until she saw the light go on.
Th 22-year-old from Caboolture went hard from the start and hit the front within the first 25m.
But her lead, more than two metres at times, was whittled down to just a few centimetres by Hungarian Zsofia Konkoly entering the final 20m.
Patterson dug deep and held on by less than one 10th of a second, clocking 4 minutes 36.68 seconds to Konkoly’s 4:36.76 - a difference of just 0.08.
“I remember that the strategy was to go out hard. I knew everyone was going to be wanting it, it was a Paralympic final,” Patterson tells Moreton Daily from Tokyo.
“I had put in the hard work and knew I was capable of getting that result. I was focusing on every lap and holding that pace. It was a tight finish and I’m pretty proud of the result.
“There was nothing left in the tank.”
She knew she had done the work to bring it home in the final 50m, using long and strong strokes and getting her hands on the wall first.
Hard work was worth it
“It’s been such a hard five years, a long time coming,” Patterson says.
“It really is a privilege to be able to represent your country on the international stage and show the world what you’re capable of. The gold medal doesn’t change anything – my identity or who I am – it cements that all that hard work was worth it.”
She credits her family, friends and coach for her win.
“It’s a major team effort that gold medal is mine, but it’s just as much deserved by everyone else who helped me get here,” she says.
It was the best time for the swimmer who trained at Southern Cross, Scarborough, early in her career and is now with Belgravia at Burpengary Aquatic Centre, since 2019 and was just outside her personal best.
“Considering everything I’ve faced in the past couple of years, I’m really excited to be at my best again,” Patterson says.
“And there’s room for improvement, so that’s exciting.”
Different Games, but special
Patterson made her Paralympic debut in Rio in 2016 and says it’s impossible to compare that experience with Tokyo.
“The Tokyo Paralympics are unprecedented. There’s never been a Games during a pandemic, so it was hard to know what to expect,” she says.
“I’m just so humbled to have the opportunity to be here and thankful the Games could go ahead.”
She says it has been different experience, with more rules and restrictions but a small price to pay to be able to compete.
She leaves Tokyo on September 6 and will go into hotel quarantine in Sydney for two weeks.
The Games has fostered a stronger feeling of camaraderie among the team because athletes couldn’t watch athletes from other sports compete and were there to cheer each other on.
In her view, it lifted performances.
As for the future, Patterson says she will re-evaluate during quarantine, but is keen to get back into the water as soon as she can.
There’s a big three years ahead with the Commonwealth Games and (delayed 2020) World Championships next year in the lead up to the 2023 World Championships and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
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