OTTERSHAW’s Hannah Russell is on course to become one of the greatest paralympic sportswomen of all time.
By Andy Fitzsimons
Still only 20, the talented swimmer has already trumped her personal haul from the London 2012 Summer Olympics by returning from Rio with one bronze and two gold medals.
It’s an incredible feat for the Surrey athlete, who still has vivid memories of splashing around in the waves at Woking’s Pool in the Park with her family a decade ago, before going on to achieve the highest honours in sport. Hannah, first off the blocks at the Olympic pool in Brazil (below), powered ahead to knock nine-tenths of a second off her own world record time.
Comfortably ahead throughout the race, she easily saw off her nearest rival, Yaryna Matlo, in the S12 disability classification backstroke 100m final on Wednesday last week. And more was to follow, as she picked up a bronze in the 100m freestyle two days later, before registering her second gold of the games in the 50m freestyle on Saturday.
Despite her unbelievable performance-to-medals ratio, Hannah remains modest about her success to date, which is akin to Olympic athletes Usain Bolt and Mark Foster.
She told the News & Mail: “My coach, Mark Rose, has always given me great pieces of advice before I compete; one is to focus only on what you can influence and let everything else take shape around you. “There’s simply no point in worrying about things you have no control over. For me, my aim is always to swim the perfect race, and I’ll happily take what comes with that. “Preparation for this [Rio] Paralympics was different to London. In 2012, I worked a lot on longer distances such as the 400m freestyle, but this time around my focus was on the shorter races.”
Hannah, a former member of Woking Swimming Club, admits that her strict training regime – comprising 32 hours of swimming a week in the build up to games – has been challenging, as she tried to juggle study time with her sport.
But the athlete, who will shortly enrol in her third year as a Sports Science student at Salford University, understands the need to make sacrifices to achieve optimum performance.
And who could question the swimmer’s endeavour as she seeks to overcome her visual impairment to inspire a new generation of men and women and deal with her sporting fame.
So step aside José Mourinho, Hannah is the real special one.
The Surrey athlete will now exercise some much needed downtime to relax and recover from four years of training, before focusing her attention on next year’s world championships in Mexico.