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New Milton swimmer Alice Tai wins gold in S8 100m backstroke at Commonwealth Games in Birmingham

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NEW Milton swimmer Alice Tai stormed to an unlikely Commonwealth Games gold at the weekend – just months after having her leg amputated.

Tai, who won six golds at the 2019 Para-swimming World Championships in London, touched first in the final of the S8 100m backstroke at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre in Birmingham.

In an interview with the BBC after the race, she said it was far more than she expected.

"I didn't think I would be able to race this season; I'm so grateful that Team England let me come here and compete."

It's the 23-year-old's second Commonwealth gold after winning in Brisbane in 2018.

She was born with bilateral talipes – or club feet – which led to a raft of operations as a youngster.

Alice Tai at the Commonwealth Games (photo: Sam Mellish/Team England)
Alice Tai at the Commonwealth Games (photo: Sam Mellish/Team England)

Tai, who started the sport aged eight joining the Seagulls Swimming Club in New Milton, had to pull out of the Tokyo Olympics after needing surgery on her elbows.

While undergoing rehab, she enquired about having her leg amputated to "have a better quality of life".

"After the operation, I couldn't use crutches or self-propel a wheelchair, so using an electric wheelchair was my only option," she said.

"I knew if I had the amputation I would have a better quality of life, if it went well. It made sense and it was the right time.

"It took me a while to realise how dramatic an option it was. I had mulled it over so much in my own head for many years so it was almost normal.

"As a Paralympian, I see amputees all the time with varying degrees of mobility but I know for everyone else it was a big deal."

Tai was made an MBE for services to swimming in 2017, and was named the Sunday Times’ Disability Sportswoman of the Year in 2019.

She told Team England: "It’s a bit surreal. I started and ended last season with surgery, had to pull out of Tokyo, then had an amputation in January. I’ve been learning to walk this year and getting back in the pool was just a bit of fun as I missed swimming.

Alicia Maude (right) in action for England at the Commonwealth Games (picture: Dave Worrall/Team England)
Alicia Maude (right) in action for England at the Commonwealth Games (picture: Dave Worrall/Team England)

“Everything I’ve done this season – silver at World Champs, gold here – means so much more. I’ve achieved a lot in my career but I’ve been through so much in the past 12 months, to come out on top and be back doing what I love, swimming times I’m happy with despite everything, is just so special.

“I can’t believe I’m on Team England. There was a time my coach and I were like ‘it’s not even worth trying, I’m not going to make it’. I saw the New Zealand girl when I came off the turn and I was like ‘hell no, not in front of a home crowd!’. I just swam for my life and I can’t believe that just happened. I’m trying hard not to cry.”

Meanwhile, former Ellingham & Ringwood player Alicia Maude had a disappointing end to the games. She scored twice during England's opening 57-0 mauling of Sri Lanka, but the team then lost to Canada 26-19 and New Zealand 38-7, ending their hopes of contesting for a medal.

Beating South Africa 36-0 and Scotland 29-5, the hosts finished fifth overall.

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