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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Tom Bryant

Ellie Simmonds' Strictly debut 'was as emotional as Olympic finals' say parents

As parents, they have lived and breathed every nail-biting moment of their daughter Ellie’s incredible career spanning four Paralympic Games.

But nothing could prepare Steve and Val Simmonds for the emotions they felt as they settled down in front of the telly on Saturday night to watch her Strictly Come Dancing debut.

“Oh, yes, we were nervous,” dad Steve explains. “Eleanor was very nervous too and she shared that feeling with us, so yes, we were apprehensive.”

Resplendent in a gold dress, ablaze in a riot of sequins and tassels, their daughter certainly looked the part when the moment finally came, 90 minutes into the hit BBC show.

But as the first bars of the cha cha cha cranked up, Steve and Val were a bag of nerves as they awaited to see if her footwork was as equally thrilling as her frock.

Ellie Simmonds is enjoying the glitz and glamour of Strictly (PA)

But any concerns were quickly extinguished as swimming star Ellie, 27, and her dance partner Nikita Kuzman lit up the studio, sending the Strictly audience into raptures.

“We likened it to watching her 400m final in London 2012 – but a shorter time to hold our breath, although only just,” Steve says.

“We were blown away. We were on the edge of our seat but from the minute she stepped off the lounger – wow.”

Nikita Kuzmin and Ellie Simmonds during the live show (PA)

The judges agreed. “You powered across the floor, you went, ‘OK, here we go, have some of this’. Your side-by-side work was great, your timing was excellent. It was good,” said Anton Du Beke.

Even acid-tongued Craig Revel Horwood was a fan. “I have to agree with Anton – the timing, your attitude, the rhythm, your isolation. It was excellent,” he said.

Steve and Val could breath again.

Eleanor Simmonds with her BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award. (Charlotte Paxton)

With 26 points out of 40, it was a strong start to Ellie’s Strictly journey with bookies even making her an outside 16-1 shot to lift the Glitterball trophy.

Of course, it would take a brave person to bet against Ellie, who is used to making history. Aged 13, she was the youngest British athlete at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, and won gold medals in the 100m and 400m freestyle events.

In 2012, she achieved gold in the 400m freestyle and the 200m Individual Medley at the Summer Paralympics in London and won a further gold in the 200m Individual Medley at Rio 2016.

But as world record holder Adam Peaty discovered on last year’s show, success in the pool doesn’t necessarily translate onto the dance floor.

For Steve, he’s just happy to see how the competition pans out.

“Who knows whether she can be a contender for the Glitterball trophy – all things are possible in an infinite universe,” he says.

“She’s definitely way out of her comfort zone but whether success on the dance floor will beat her success in the pool really is a question for her.”

Certainly there was no hint of any future Strictly career as she grew up in Walsall, in the West Midlands.

Steve, a waste consultant, and Val, have four other children – Steven, Pauline, Georgina and Ellie’s older sister Katie, who also has achondroplasia, or dwarfism.

“Eleanor clearly has rhythm and enjoyed a boogie when she was a kid but not sure you would say that there was a nascent Strictly dancer in there, which makes all of this the more amazing,” Steve says.

Instead, it soon became clear Ellie had a talent for swimming as she steadfastly practised in a pool in their garden.

When she was 11, the family made the tough decision for Val and Ellie to move to Swansea to train with the GB squad.

Steve stayed behind with the siblings, with Ellie, who won the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award in 2008, making the six-hour round trip home with her mum every weekend.

Ellie Simmonds likes to put on a show (DAILY MIRROR)

The sacrifices were worth it, with Olympic success coming just two years later. Such determination and work ethic puts her in good stead for a long run in the dance contest.

But Steve admits he was worried at first when she confided in him about signing up for the show.

“We were very happy for her but also a little concerned as to how she would deal with the intensity of it, especially if she does well and stays in a long time,” he admits.

But deep down there was a real sense of pride in the fact that, once more, she was breaking down barriers and showing that anything is possible.

“Eleanor has been uncompromising in her belief in herself and who she is,” Steve says.

“We’ve always told her that she can do anything she wants to and Strictly is the next example of her continuing that theme.

“Doing so and continuing to behave in the honest and open way that she does is a constant source of pride for us.”

Ellie pictured as a baby (DAILY MIRROR)

For dwarfism to be represented on such a mainstream show was to be applauded.

“We feel that modern society must be as inclusive as possible,” he says. “We have seen that para-athletes are as highly performing and dedicated as able bodied”

Steve has already met Nikita and is confident the likeable Ukrainian will “do her proud – as hopefully she will him”.

“We don’t know how Nikita will deal with adapting dances for Eleanor.

“But having met and spoken with him we feel that he is a genuine young man and is clearly excited by and looking forward to the opportunity to develop his choreography skills while adapting the dances for Eleanor,” he says.

For an athlete who is used to the cut and thrust of competition, it’s little wonder that Steve says any criticism from the judges will be water off a duck’s back for his daughter.

“As long as it’s constructive and gives her something to work towards, Eleanor will be fine with it,” he says.

Craig, you’ve been warned…

  • Strictly Come Dancing continues tonight at 6.30pm on BBC One.

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