The first race, the men's 400m freestyle S8, was a siren, warning everyone of what was to follow. It was billed as a private British battle for gold – and fraternal bragging rights – between Sam Hynd, the Paralympic champion and world record holder, and his younger brother Oliver. But the Chinese swimmer Yinan Wang was not listening. He smashed his personal best to take gold, leaving the brothers with the minor medals. Not that they seemed overly concerned.
"I set a PB, I've got a silver medal, it's fantastic," said Oliver, who had never beaten his elder brother outside games of Fifa on his PlayStation. "I tried to stick to Sam at first but the Chinese guy had a better finish than me. I didn't think he would go as fast as he did.He just came out of nowhere."
Wang, who was born with a malformed left arm, joined China's swimming programme only a year ago. Few expected him to challenge seriously. But in a thrilling race he went head-to-head with 21-year-old Sam, the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder, and then, when he dropped back, found the zip and willpower to see off his 17-year-old brother, Oliver, by just over half a second in a sprint finish.
Wang's winning time, 4min 27.11sec, was a personal best by five seconds. Oliver took silver in 4:27.88, with Sam third in 4:32.93. Thomas Young, the other British swimmer in the final, finished fourth.
However Sam, who like his brother has neuromuscular myopathy, preferred to focus on gains, not losses. "[Wang] had a 10-second PB from this morning and that's a phenomenal time to drop in one day," he said. "But I've got a bronze medal, to go with my gold and a bronze from Beijing, so that's three Paralympic medals out of two Games. I'm ecstatic."
Unbound delight was soon followed by tears. They came from Heather Frederiksen, who after finishing behind Jessica Long, the 20-year-old American who is threatening to be the Paralympics answer to Michael Phelps, reflected on how she had salvaged silver from a wretched year.
"I literally went from October to April-May with neuralgia and constant headaches before I took a turn for the worse and lost part of my sight in my left eye," said Frederiksen, who was one of Britain's best open-water swimmers before an accident in 2004 left her with limited use of her right arm and leg. "There were days I couldn't get out of bed, so to be here having missed seven months of training was something special. Thank you NHS for getting me here."
Long, who was born in Siberia with fibular hemimelia, a condition that left her without her lower legs and feet, before being adopted by American parents when she was a year old, is already staring at loftier targets. "I set my goals very, very high," said the woman who holds 14 world records and seven golds from Athens and Beijing.
She has already won two golds at these Games and is targeting seven more. She might just do it. It is just a shame that no one in America is watching her attempt to make history.
The British silvers kept coming. Aaron Moores was delighted to finish second behind the Netherlands swimmer Marc Evers, who set one of six world records on the night, claiming: "It was amazing. It's the best thing that's happened in my life." While in the men's 100m backstroke S9, James Crisp, at 29 a veteran in the British squad, was "gobsmacked" after winning his 12th Paralympic medal by finishing behind the Australian world champion Matthew Cowdrey.
Stephanie Milward was another Briton who found an Australian too good for her as Ellie Cole won the women's 100m backstroke S9, in a race where Amy Marren, a 14-year-old British girl who was born without her right hand, finished fifth. She is one to watch in Rio.
Afterwards Milward, who was hoping to compete in the Sydney Olympics before getting multiple sclerosis, explained what her medal meant: "A silver medal is incredible. I feel on top of the world. When I was diagnosed [with MS] I thought it was the end of life, never mind swimming again and getting a Paralympic medal.
"I think it is something for everyone with MS or who has got an illness because it proves that it doesn't need to be the end."
Listening to her and others talking after their events made one reflect on a famous skit from the American comedian Jerry Seinfeld about silver medals. "When you think about it, you win the gold you feel good; you win the bronze you think, 'Well, at least I got something,'" he once said. "But when you win that silver it's like, 'Congratulations, you almost won. Of all the losers you came in first of that group. You're the number one loser. No one lost ahead of you!'"
Perhaps on previous occasions Seinfeld has been right. Silver has been like being the first loser. But it did not feel that way amid the smiles, the tears and sheer joy expressed on British faces in the pool on Friday night.
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