Tai in disbelief as World gold tally increases to four

Alice Tai won her fourth gold on day four of the World Para-Swimming World Championships in Stratford

Alice Tai’s rivalry with Jessica Long is quickly becoming something of a modern classic.

For the second night running at the World Para Swimming Championships, Tai got the better of her cross-Atlantic rival, on Thursday collecting a fourth gold medal in as many nights, with silverware this time won in the 400m freestyle S8.

And in what was a markedly longer-form distance to her previous three triumphs this week at the London Aquatics Centre, Tai gave everything to overcome a commanding lead that the American had built up by the halfway stage.

“I had to dig really deep,” she said.

“From the previous races, looking at her splits, I know that her back end is super strong, so I was honestly scared after I overtook her that she would just come back at me in the last length.

“I was gritting my teeth, closing my eyes and trying to dig in to get every ounce of energy out. I honestly didn’t expect to win that, so it’s a bit emotional for me; I’m kind of in shock.

“I definitely prefer sprints, 400s are a lot more tiring for me. We’ve been working hard in training because I knew that it would be a medal opportunity, which has paid off, which is crazy.

“I watched other athletes achieve stuff like this, and to be part of that group, winning medals every day, is something that I would never have thought of, ever.”

Cheered on all the way by an enthusiastic fan-club, Tai has reached celebrity-status in Stratford.

And she can barely believe the support that has greeted the home favourites throughout the championships, cementing her step across the divide from fan to champion.

“It’s incredible,” she said.

“It’s actually really cool, because I remember when I went to competitions, I was there chanting ‘Ellie, Ellie’ for Ellie Simmonds, and to have that for me - I think I might cry! I’m so honoured to be here and spreading the awareness of para-sport. We’ve clearly made a mark.

“Just having people here is incredible. A lot of sessions have sold out and the stands have been packed; you can hear them in the pool - it’s crazy. I am fatigued, but it’s not something I’m not used to.”

Meanwhile, Reece Dunn is well and truly in his comfort-zone when it comes to relays.

The 23-year-old starred in the last leg of the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay S14 at the World Para Swimming Championships as the home quartet of Dunn, Jessica-Jane Applegate, Bethany Firth and Thomas Hamer notched a thrilling world-record time of 3:42.21.

And Dunn, winner of the 200m freestyle S14 on Monday, once again underlined his frightening pace in the pool as he made up no less than 15m on the leading Russians in his final leg, leaving even him struggling to comprehend the feat.

“I don’t know how I did it,” he said.

“We were 15m behind, so obviously I knew I had to put in a big effort.

“We knew we had a deficit, knew it was not going to be easy. We went in with a positive attitude and it paid off.

“I love relays, we can always perform well in relays because you’ve got your team around you and your mates, and you have a good time.”

A brand-new event for the London championships, the GB squad was decked with talent, with nine Paralympic medals split between their number.

And though Dunn - the breakthrough star of this week’s competition - is yet to contribute to that total, teammate Hamer is hoping that the quartet will get the chance to add to their tally when next summer’s games roll around.

"Tokyo’s the main priority, so I’m going to get back this season and work on that, but it will be great to stand on that podium with the team and celebrate our success,” he said.

While Applegate was full of praise for Dunn’s stirring comeback.

“I wasn’t nervous, because I know that he’s an absolute animal; he’s a chaser and he love to race,” she said.

“He has been setting records here there and everywhere this week. We had 100% confidence in putting him last.”