Simmonds lays down gauntlet to Arlen with dominant display in S6 400m freestyle
13:11 GMT, 1 September 2012
Ellie Simmonds commanded the spotlight at the Aquatics Centre as she booked a probable showdown with Victoria Arlen in the S6 400 metres freestyle with a blistering performance which indicates she is ready to reclaim her world record from the American.
The Briton won the title in Beijing, along with the 100m freestyle, at the tender age of 13 where her tears on the podium saw her catapulted into the public eye.
Arlen though wrested Simmonds' world record at the United States trials in June as she underlined the threat she was to the home favourite.
Peaking at the right time: Ellie Simmonds was delighted with her performance
Earlier this week, however, Arlen's very participation was thrown into doubt when she was deemed ineligible for competition and excluded from London 2012.
The United States' appeal to the International Paralympic Committee was upheld and the 17-year-old was reinstated on Thursday.
It is a two-stage process with Arlen having passed an initial assessment but she was also observed during racing today after which a final decision was set to be reached.
The IPC announced this morning they would make a statement as to her fate this afternoon, before the final where she was the fastest qualifier behind Simmonds.
The situation clearly had not affected Simmonds who was beaming after her time of five minutes 24.64 seconds, a Paralympic and European record and personal best and just 0.18secs outside Arlen's world mark.
Simmonds said: 'Really pleased. I am shocked by it. All my coach (Billy Pye) said leading into it was to go in there and hopefully do a 5:30.
Going for gold: Simmonds is confident ahead of the final
'But, yeah, really happy – I've just done a PB in a heat swim which gets me ready for tonight. It's going to be a very tough but very exciting race but I am looking forward to it.'
Of the circumstances surrounding her fellow teenager Arlen, Simmonds said: 'I've been aware of it, I've just had to focus on myself, I can't control her. At the start of the week she was an S6 and now she is an S6.
'It is good that now she is an S6. It is going to give me someone to race and she is going to push me to my limits and the best of my ability and I am really excited for that.'
After an emotional few days, Arlen deserves credit for such a swim in what is her Paralympic debut.
She said: 'It has been a rollercoaster but I have an incredible Team USA that has been supporting me.
'But it is what it is, it comes with the sport and I am just happy to be here, happy to swim and happy to represent my country. I'm ready to go always. I was nervous and I was shaking all over and just went out there and was like “I'm here”.'
Strong support: Family and friends cheer on Simmonds
While Simmonds was in the spotlight, ParalympicsGB team-mate Natalie Jones also made it through in seventh.
Claire Cashmore heads the SB8 100m breaststroke field in 1:22.90 in which she is the world and European silver medallist.
The Redditch-born swimmer was cautious after the heat and fully expects the final to play out differently.
She said: 'Content, not delighted. I think a lot of girls are holding a lot of things back. The race starts tonight.
'This morning nobody gets a medal for winning their heat, unfortunately, otherwise I would be very happy.'
Other qualifiers were James Crisp and Sam Hynd – both medallists yesterday – in the SB8 100m breaststroke, Matthew Whorwood (S6 400m freestyle), Gemma Almond (S10 100m butterfly), Anthony Stephens (S5 200m freestyle), Rhiannon Henry (S13 50m freestyle) and Sascha Kindred and Thomas Young in the SB7 100m breaststroke.