Jason Smyth: Planet's fastest Paralympian is an Irishman
ATHLETE Jason Smyth has claimed his place "in the pantheon of Irish sporting greats", the Taoiseach has said, after the sprinter clinched a fifth Paralympic gold medal.
Smyth (29), from Eglinton near Derry, followed up his success in Beijing in 2008 and in London four years ago with another 100 metre victory in the T13 final at this year's Rio Games.
The athlete, the Republic's first medallist in Rio, hailed his victory as "incredible".
"This is my third Paralympic Games and my fifth gold medal. It's a bit like a fairytale. I keep coming to these championships wondering when the fairytale is going to end," he told RTÉ.
Smyth clinched victory with a time of 10.64 seconds - faster than in his heat.
"I knew I was capable of a faster time. I have run quicker than these guys and I should be beating them if I can put things together," he said. "Thankfully I was the first man across the line."
As an eight year-old, Smyth was diagnosed with Stargardt's Disease, which has left him with less than 10 per cent of normal vision.
Smyth won 100m and 200m gold in 2008 and 2012 but will not be able to complete the 'triple' because his 200m event has been withdrawn from these Paralympics.
His family, including wife Elise and baby daughter Evie, were watching the race in Eglinton.
Elise told the BBC: "We're all obviously ecstatic and so happy for him."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness praised the sprinter's "fantastic" achievement.
"It is all the more exceptional given the fact that this is the third consecutive Paralympic games that Jason has won gold in the 100 metres", he said.
"He is a truly inspirational athlete and is a great role model to young people in his home village of Eglinton, across the north west and further afield. Jason is a great ambassador for team Ireland and for Paralympic athletes and I wish him and all those taking part in the games continuing success."
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Smyth's retention of his title for the third Olympics in a row "is a magnificent achievement and is testament to his talent, dedication and sheer hard work".
"It is a great honour that the fastest Paralympian on the planet is an Irishman and his haul of five Olympic medals ensures his place in the pantheon of Irish sporting greats," said Mr Kenny.
Smyth's win came after Co Down swimmer Bethany Firth won a gold medal in the S14 100m backstroke.
Firth, from Seaforde, who swims for Team GB, claimed her second Paralympic gold having won the same medal for Ireland at the London 2012 games.
"It feels amazing. I'm just so happy," she said.
"I've had a lot of setbacks in the last four years, breaking my wrist. I'm so glad to have retained my title."
The swimmer, who competes in the S14 classes for competitors with an intellectual disability, will swim again on Sunday in the 200m freestyle. She will also compete in the 100m breaststroke and 200m individual medley later in the Games.
There will be further northern interest in the Paralympics on Sunday when Ballymena runner Michael McKillop competes in the T37 1500m final.