Five years after becoming the first woman in Europe to land a backflip in a wheelchair, Lily Rice tumble turned her way to Wales’ first swimming medal of the Commonwealth Games.
Pembrokeshire pool star Rice battled past a lingering chest infection to claim bronze in the S8 100m backstroke behind England’s world record holder and now Commonwealth champion Alice Tai.
It was an incredible feat for Rice, a world champion in wheelchair motocross who only returned to competitive swimming nine months ago after being inspired by the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
The 18-year-old said: “It’s crazy. I don’t know how to explain it. I’ve been quite ill over the past few weeks so to go out and medal is amazing.
“If I said to myself a year ago I’d be at the Commonwealths, never mind medalling, I’d have told myself to shut up.
“Being able to represent Wales is such a special thing about the Commonwealth Games.”
Rice revealed her transition back to the sport she excelled in as a child had gone better than she ever could have imagined with the bronze medal dangling around her neck vindicating that decision.
However, the packed-out crowd at Sandwell Aquatics Centre were denied Rice’s customary celebration as she worried about slipping off the podium.
She said: “In 2017 I became the first woman in Europe to land a backflip in a wheelchair. Fast forward five years, winning a Commonwealth medal is insane.
“I wasn’t planning on switching sports at all but when I got back in the pool I realised this could be something I could be quite good at and I’ve proven that today.
“I wouldn’t say there’s much that’s similar apart from a tumble turn and a flip but having that experience in elite sport in the first place helped me transition into swimming better.
“I was scared I was going to fall backwards off the podium – that’s the closest we’re getting to a backflip on the podium!”
Rice may have beaten Medi Harris to the punch when it came to Wales’ first medal in the pool but the latter’s 100m backstroke triumph was as impressive after claiming her first senior medal amid a top-class field.
The only two swimmers to beat the Borth y Gest ace’s time of 59.62 seconds were the current and former world record holders Kaylee McKeown of Australia who took gold ahead of Canada’s Kylie Masse.
“I’m so happy with that swim, it was a really good race,” said Harris, 19, who was second at the halfway mark before clinging onto a podium place.
“My coach and I have been trying to work on [starting strongly and maintaining speed], so hopefully, as time goes on, I will be able to improve my back half and keep up with them.
“I have only just got used to swimming heats, semis and finals so I'm really happy that I was able to get the same time as last night.
“I’m used to swimming in the morning and warming up to the night so I’m very happy with that.”
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