Gold medal shows she's Firth amongst equals


SPORTSWOMAN OF THE MONTH BETHANY FIRTH (Swimming)WELL, THAT was quite a summer. From the beginning of the Olympics in July to the end of the Paralympics last weekend, we had significantly more Sportswomen of the Month(s) contenders than we had awards.

Two are already on our list of 2012 monthly winners, Katie Taylor for winning her fourth successive World Championship title in May (lest you missed it, she went on to have a rather fruitful trip to London), and Annalise Murphy for her outstanding performances in the Laser Radial sailing class at the Games, the 22-year-old just missing out on a medal.

Top-10 finishes in their respective Olympic events by Aoife Clarke (eventing), Natalya Coyle (modern pentathlon) and Hannah Craig (canoeing) were among the other highlights, and then there were the Paralympics, where the medal haul was even more bountiful.

There were 16 in all, including medallists Catherine O’Neill (discus), Orla Barry (discus), Catherine Walsh (two in cycling), Helen Kearney, who won two individual equestrian medals and another in the team event with Geraldine Savage, Eilish Byrne and James Dwyer.

It was 16-year-old swimmer Bethany Firth who struck gold, though, the native of Seaforde, Co Down bringing August to an end with a memorable triumph in the S14 100 metres backstroke.

Firth, remarkably, only took up swimming three years ago but gave some indication of her potential at last year’s Paralympic European Championships when she won silver in the 100m backstroke and reached the final in her two other events.

She was only the fourth fastest qualifier for her final in London, but she held off Australia’s Taylor Corry and the Netherlands’ Marlou van der Kulk to take gold. And no one was more surprised than her. “I thought I came third and I was like ‘oh, okay’, and then I saw first and I was like ‘oh, my word’,” she said after the race.

She managed the feat despite having a shoulder injury going in to the race, one she aggravated en route to gold, resulting in her having to withdraw from the 100m breaststroke and 200m freestyle events.

The gold, though, was reward for her dedication to her sport since she took it up competitively, and for her parents, Peter and Lyndsey, who drive her for training to the nearest pool in Newtownards at 4.30am most mornings.

Two and a half hours in the pool, another 30 minutes training on dry land, and then another session in the evening. That’s what it takes, it seems, to be a Paralympic champion.

Her ambition is to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio, when she’ll only be a few months past her 20th birthday. You’d be unwise to bet against her in light of the progress she’s made since first dipping her toe in a pool.


(This year’s awards cover December 2011 to November 2012)

December: Fionnuala Britton (Athletics)

January: Jessica Kurten (Equestrian)

February: Fiona Coghlan (Rugby)

March: Audrey O’Flynn (Hockey)

April: Katie Walsh (Horse racing)

May: Katie Taylor (Boxing)

June: Stephanie Meadow (Golf)

July: Annalise Murphy (Sailing).

Each sportswoman can only win one monthly award in the year but her achievements through the 12 months are taken in to account when the winner of the overall award is being decided.

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