Kenny in tribute to Irish gold medallist


Taoiseach Enda Kenny has paid tribute to Bethany Firth, who won Ireland’s first gold medal of the Paralympic Games in London last night.

The 16-year-old from Seaforde, Co Down, had a magnificent swim in the S14 100m Backstroke, winning by over half a second and sending the large Irish crowd in the Aquatic Centre into overdrive.

Taoiseach said Firth’s impressive win is an inspiration to all young people, she has done her country, family, and Team Ireland proud. “I wish Bethany every success with her future swimming,” he said.

Firth, who has an intellectual disability, came into the competition with the fourth best time in the field but rose far above that level in London.

She has only been swimming competitively for three years but already had a European silver medal in the 200m freestyle to her name before last night.

For ever more, she can now call herself a Paralympic gold medallist.

“Oh, it’s amazing,” she said afterwards. “I can’t believe it. Words can’t describe how I feel at the minute.”

Firth got off to a brilliant start and swam out to a comprehensive 0.4-second lead at the turn. Although it looked like she was starting to tire as the race came to its final quarter, she redoubled her efforts in the closing stages and won going away.

“I looked up at 25 and thought ‘I really need to pick this up’,” she said.

“It just took me to the end. I thought I had finished third but then I looked up and saw I came first. The crowd was amazing. I could even hear them under the water and everything.”

When she was told it was Ireland’s first medal at the Games, she had to turn around to a delighted chef de mission Liam Harbison for the nod that it was indeed the case.

“Is it? Oh that’s really good. Excellent. I just can’t believe it. I’m out of breath. It’s like a dream.”

This was not even supposed to be her best event. In the 200m freestyle tomorrow, she is among a group of five swimmers whose personal bests are only separated by half a second and it would be no huge surprise after this if she added to her tally. After this, anything’s possible.

“I love backstroke but I had an injury coming into this that set me back so I wasn’t expecting too much, but then to see the gold makes everything worth it in the end. It’s so good.”

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