sports

Paralympian Ellie Cole on what it's like to miss out on gold by 0.02 of a second.

If you haven’t already heard of Ellie Cole, write her name down now and commit it to memory.

At two years old, the now-Paralympian was diagnosed with a rare tumour called a sarcoma in her right leg, which was eventually amputated to above the knee.

As part of her rehabilitation, Cole’s mother took her swimming. Melbourne-born Cole quickly surpassed all expectations and took up competitive swimming in 2003.

Now the 24 year old is a champion in both times and attitude. She won six medals at the 2012 London Paralympic games, including four golds.

During her second Paralympics in Rio this week, Cole experienced the feeling most athletes will face at some point – not coming first. In fact, she was pipped by just 0.02 of a second by newcomer Nuria Marquez Soto of Spain.

In a candid blog post on her website, Cole has shared what it’s really like to come so close to winning.

Describing the “eerie silence” as the athletes stand on the blocks, instinct immediately kicks in when the starting siren blares.

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“The first 200 meters was cruisy. Roll the shoulders over, stay relaxed. I knew that my biggest threat for the gold was one of these young pups who were looking to destroy me. I kept my eye on her with every tumble turn. Every turn, she was there,” Cole wrote.

“I would gradually build my speed to try and shake her off but she was trailing off my toes. The pain was slowly building with every stroke. It takes everything to keep your technique together. Keep your strokes long, your body position high in the water.”

Cole says the feeling of agony really hit at the 350 metre mark. At 50 metres Soto was gaining on her fast.

“My muscles were screaming. Everything was hurting. My arms hurt. My head was throbbing and the lungs were burning. I think even my ear lobes were hurting.

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“We were head to head and I was in physical agony. But you have to ignore that. This is a Paralympic final after all. ‘I have worked this hard for 375 meters, I am not going to give up’. Time to bring out the big guns. Don’t breathe for the last 15 metres. Just get to the wall as fast as you can. Go, go, go.”

It took some time for Cole to work out the result.

“Touching the wall on the last stroke I instantly went into the unknown. The pain stopped. I had no energy to turn around. I was trying to return oxygen back into my body as quickly as I could. I glanced up at my team mates in the crowd and saw that none of them were on their feet. I knew in that moment that I hadn’t won,” she wrote.

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“This young pup had destroyed me in 0.02 of a second. She wasn’t just a wide-eyed and oblivious girl after all. She was going to be good. Really, really good! She just proved herself on the world stage – the Games’ newest gold medallist.

“I looked over to her and saw in her eyes how happy she was. She couldn’t believe it. It was a feeling that I had four years prior when I had won my first Paralympic gold medal. You can’t beat that feeling.”

Proving just what a legend she is, in that moment Cole focused not on her disappointment but Soto’s success as her “biggest fan”.

“I realised quickly that Nuria Marquez Soto was something special. In four or eight years time, when she is dominating in the pool, I can look back and say that I was part of her first gold medal race,” she wrote.

The 24 year old also revealed that competing on the world stage isn’t as dissimilar to her childhood races as you’d think.

“Ill let you in on a little secret: its exactly the same race as when you were a little boy or girl. Its just faster. Stronger. Competitive. Practiced,” she wrote.

“So, standing behind the blocks in Rio, I have found that I feel so separate to what I think a Paralympic swimmer and champion should be. I have always felt like that. Its just me standing there.

“I feel the same nerves that I did in my first swimming race when I was an 11 year old girl. I have the same expectations; I want to win. This time though, I’ll make sure that my goggles don’t fall off.”

Image: Instagram/@elliecoleswim.

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