Rio Olympics

Bethany Firth sets world record in 100 metre backstroke in Rio

Ireland's Sean Hahessy (pilot) and Damien Verecker in action during the cycling track men's B 4,000m individual pursuit qualifying at the Rio Olympic Velodrome on Thursday
Picture by PA
Malcolm McCausland

THERE was a sensational start to Thursday’s opening day of competition at the Paralympics in Rio, with Seaforde 20-year-old Bethany Firth setting a world record in the heats of the S14 100m backstroke.

Firth clocked 64.53s for a new global, European and personal record to set her up as the favourite for Friday morning’s final (Irish time). The Ards Swim Club star won the event in London when representing Ireland, before switching to Great Britain that same year.

Firth, who competes in the S14 category (learning difficulties), injured her shoulder after the backstroke in London and could not take part in any other events. However, she will also compete in the 200m freestyle, 100m breaststroke and 200m individual medley later in the games.

Firth’s hopes of a gold medal will be boosted by the absence of Russian athlete Valeria Shabalina as part of her country’s exclusion from the games. The two clashed in the 200m individual medley at the European Championships earlier this year, with Shabalina edging out the county Down woman for the win.

Meath man James Scully had the swim of his life to qualify for the final of the S5 200m freestyle event. Scully’s time of 2:53.17s was good enough to see him through as sixth of the eight qualifiers for the final, also to be held early on Friday morning.

There was no such luck for Ailbhe Kelly, who failed to progress to the S8 400m freestyle final after finishing seventh in the second heat. With just the fastest eight going through, the 17-year-Castleknock girl recorded 5:41.36s. That ranked her 13th of the 13 starters in the event.

One of Ireland’s hopes for an athletics medal made an early debut on the track in the second semi-final of the T13 1,500m. Greta Streimikyte found herself at the front at the end of the opening lap in a modest 79 seconds.

She was a close-up second after two laps as Tunisia’s Somaya Bousaid picked up the pace to lead through 800m in 2:36s. Bousaid remained in front at three laps, with the clock showing 3:54s before Spain’s experienced Izakun Oses Ayucar took control. That was the order in which it stayed until the finish line, with the Spaniard winning in 4:49.99s from Bousaid, with the 21-year-old DCU student qualifying as one of the fastest losers in third spot with a 4:51.75s.

Wheelchair athlete Aaron Wheelz goes down a ramp, marking the start of the Paralympic Games at the Maracana Stadium in Rio on Thursday
Picture by PA

Streimikyte’s time was a personal best and the third fastest overall, although the Tunisian winner of the first semi-final Naja Chouaya did look to have something in hand when achieving her 4:52.32s. The final is on Saturday afternoon.

Damien Vereker and Sean Hahessy were in action over in the velodrome, finishing eighth in the qualifying round for the 4,000m individual pursuit. The two fastest riders qualified for the gold and silver final, with third and fourth fastest deciding the destination of the bronze medal.

Sean Baldwin was a long way off qualifying for the final of the R1 10m air rifle standing, finishing back in 19th of the 22 competitors who took part in the qualifying round. Ukraine took advantage of Ireland playing only one midfield player as they cruised to a 6-0 victory in the Cerebral Palsy seven-a-side football competition. Ukraine played a 2-3-1 formation as Ireland struggled for possession with a 3-1-2 line-up.

Toome man Cormac Birt, a forward, came off the bench in the 37th minute (30 minutes each way) to replace a back, but that failed to make any difference as Ukraine shored up their defence with three replacements in the last-quarter of the game.

Glenanne’s Ryan Walker was an unused substitute in that match, as was Downpatrick man David Leavy in the Great Britain team that lost 1-2 to Brazil in its opening fixture in the same group as Ireland. Ballymena 17-year-old Katie Morrow also played no part in the British Wheelchair team’s 36-43 loss against World champions Canada.

Subject to a successful passage through last night’s semi-final, Jason Smyth will be running the T13 100m final this afternoon at 3:09pm Irish time: “There is a bit more pressure where you’ve only got the one event now,” said Smyth, who has no 200m in these games.

“There’s less room for error. It doesn’t matter if I had one event or two, I’d still be going for gold.”

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