ALICE Tai is a Paralympic champion and seven-time gold medallist at the World Championships but a Commonwealth title in Birmingham just hits home harder.

That is because the 23-year-old from Poole has just gone through two years of hell that left her wondering whether she would ever compete at the highest level again, writes Paul Eddison.

An elbow injury prevented her from defending her Paralympic crown in Tokyo a year ago, and she started this year with surgery to amputate her foot.

Even making it to Birmingham felt like a long shot, but not only did Tai manage that, she then claimed a sensational gold in the 100m backstroke S8.

Putting into words just what that meant was not easy.

She said: “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.

“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.”

Jay Lelliott rued a missed opportunity after finishing seventh in the men’s 200m butterfly final in front of his nearest and dearest.

The former Swim Bournemouth star, 27, now wants to work on his finish ahead of a shot at Olympic qualification in what is arguably swimming’s most gruelling race.

“I’m very disappointed, I don’t have many words. I know I’m better than that,” said Lelliott, after failing to sustain the pace set by compatriot James Guy who took bronze in the lane next to him.

“It’s still a Commonwealth final, there’s a lot to be proud of, but I can’t help feeling I missed an opportunity there.

“Massive thanks to my dad, he hasn’t watched me race since the 2016 Olympic trials and he’s here tonight.

“It’s awesome that he’s here and my missus is with him as well, they mean the world to me.

“I wish I could have done a bit better but that’s the way it goes. My whole game plan for the season has been front end speed but what’s the point in that if you don’t have the back end. I’ve got two years to try and develop the back as well.”

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