'I thought I’d lost an eye!' Shropshire marathon swimmer elbowed out of Olympic race

"I thought I’d lost the eye."

Former Ellesmere College Titans and Whitchurch Wasps swimmer Hector Pardoe was forced out of the Tokyo 2020 marathon swim with a nasty eye injury. Pic: Andy Jameson Twitter
Former Ellesmere College Titans and Whitchurch Wasps swimmer Hector Pardoe was forced out of the Tokyo 2020 marathon swim with a nasty eye injury. Pic: Andy Jameson Twitter

In one sentence, Hector Pardoe was able to encapsulate the brutality of open water swimming.

The 20-year-old from Whitchurch took a stray elbow to the eye and was forced to retire while making his Olympic debut in the marathon swimming, a gruelling 10km race in the waters of Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo.

Flailing limbs, unwanted sea creatures and unbearable chafing are occupational hazards for an open water swimmer, but even by those standards, this was unusual.

With the way his eye had puffed up and already started turning a deep shade of purple, it looked as though former Ellesmere College Titans and Whitchurch Wasps swimmer Pardoe had gone a few rounds with Anthony Joshua.

He explained what had happened: “On the last lap I took an elbow to the face, I thought I’d lost the eye. My goggle completely snapped off and I couldn’t see a thing.

"I always think that whenever I get an injury that I’d be able to finish the race but my goggles completely fell off and I couldn’t get them. When you get hit, it goes all blurry so I was waiting for it to come back. It swelled up and I didn’t realise how bad it was.

“I couldn’t see anything and I thought my eye had fallen out in the water. I was going up to the lifeguards saying ‘My eye, my eye, is it OK?’.”

Fortunately for Pardoe, the medics checked him out and reassured him that the eye was indeed OK.

Swimmers during the Men's 10km Marathon Swimming race at Odaiba Marine Park

Ironically, fellow competitors were not even the biggest concern for the marathon swimmers competing in Japan. Much had been made of the Nomura’s jellyfish that have taken over the waters in Tokyo Bay, giant 2m-long creatures that can weigh up to 200kg and whose sting can lead to severe swelling and sometimes even death.

The reeds and ducks of the Serpentine, the venue for the event at London 2012, seem tame by comparison with some of the sea life around the world.

Pardoe had already voiced his own concerns about the umbrella-shaped creatures before the Games, having had a harrowing experience at the European Junior Championships in Malta back in 2018 from which he still has the scars.

Add in the searing heat – the water was 29 degrees – and it made for desperately difficult conditions for the swimmers, even those who avoided an elbow to the eye.

Pardoe added: “It was really hot, I noticed my heart rate was really high on the first lap when I wasn’t even pushing that much.

“It’s nothing I’ve ever really experienced before, I think the hottest I’ve ever done is 23 degrees, so to jump to 29 was really difficult.”

An experience like that might be enough to put anyone off, but Pardoe was having none of it.

With the swelling on his eye still growing, he vowed to come back stronger in three years’ time in Paris to challenge for the medals.

He said: “This isn’t going to be a setback, it’s going to be more motivation. I’m going to get my head down for the next three years. I’ll have a break first, have a nice holiday after this and then get my head down and grind and hopefully get back to it in Paris and try and challenge for the medals.”

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