Irish Paralympians find success in beating their personal bests

Medals are much sought-after currency, but there’s value in eclipsing previous milestones

There are no lowball achievements when it comes to personal bests in sport. It's there in black-and-white, an unequivocal recognition and measurement of excellence in performance terms. On the opening day of the Paralympics in Tokyo Team Ireland racked up the multiple PBs in the pool and the velodrome.

Gold, silver and bronze medals represent the most sought-after currency, but for the majority of competitors success can be found in eclipsing previous milestones. Barry McClements missed out on going to the Games in 2016 by less than two seconds; yesterday he swam nine seconds quicker in his S9 400m freestyle heat.

The 19-year-old Newtownards swimmer, who had the honour of being Ireland's first Paralympian in action, came up agonisingly short, ninth-fastest in 4.27.11 and thereby missing out on the final by one place; it was a race won by Australia's William Martin in a Paralympic record (4.10.25).

Consolation for McClements came in the form of a personal best and the knowledge that his strongest event is yet to come. He said: “It gets the nerves out of the way. I’m very happy. When I was younger it was my preferred event but as I have got stronger and better it is probably the 100 fly now.”


Nicole Turner continued where she left off as a 14-year-old in Rio by qualifying for yet another final – her sixth in two Games. On this occasion the Portarlington native twice swam personal bests in the heat and then the final, finishing eighth.

She smiled: “Going back to the Europeans in May I am a bronze medallist and I qualified eighth for a [Paralympic] final, so it is a really competitive race. This morning the aim was to swim the final and come out with a PB and I have done that.


“I’m probably being a bit hard on myself because I’d have liked to have gone a little bit faster than that, but the aim is always to PB and I’ve achieved that so I can’t ask for a better start.”

Now 19 years old, she was asked how she’s changed and responded by saying that she takes things a little “more seriously than I did in Rio”.

"I have matured a little since then. It's been a long five years. To be swimming finals and PBs, that's the dream. It's been a year that we have had massive support," she said before going on to thank her coach, Dave Malone, for all the time he's put in despite the restrictions of trying to train and prepare during a pandemic.

The youngest member of the Ireland team, 16-year-old Limerick schoolgirl Róisín Ní Ríain, produced a stunning performance in her heat of the S13 100m Butterfly to lower her personal best by three seconds and qualify for a final in which she finished eighth. She explained: “I think the time was slow, a second off this morning, but it is a Paralympic final and I am happy with that.

“Hopefully the rest of the week will go a bit better.”

The Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh student, who is going into fifth year, certainly won’t have much time for reflection as she races in another five events including her favourite, the 100m backstroke.

In the Izu Velodrome Paralympic debutant Richael Timothy obliterated her previous personal best in the C1-C3 3,000m Individual Pursuit by 14 seconds, finishing ninth, one place outside the medal races. The world record was broken twice during the event including by the eventual winner, Australia's Paige Greco.

Rare condition

The 26-year-old –who played schools soccer (under-15 and under-17) for Ireland alongside current international Katie McCabe and also Gaelic football for Roscommon – suffered an acquired brain injury as a result of treatment for a rare condition known as HHT (hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia) which affects veins and arteries. It left her with just 30 per cent power in her left leg.

She made her para-cycling Irish debut in 2017 and has featured prominently in major championships. She has two more events on the track and one on the road.

Table tennis player Colin Judge took a set off the world number six, China's Zhao Ping, in losing 11-6, 11-9, 10-12, 11-6, a match that was closer in the context of opportunities for the Dubliner than the final scoreline might indicate.

He said: “I was a bit nervous at the start. I felt there was very little in it all the way, either of us could have won, but there are a lot of good things to take from it. It’s quite encouraging; it’s probably the most forehands I’ve ever played. I’ve been working on my forehands a lot so I’m happy I got that in so much and I didn’t hold back. Just slight adjustments for tomorrow and I think I’ll be good.”

Competitors are grouped in threes so for he’ll be hoping that Zhao beats Welder Knaf which would then leave Judge in a straight shoot-out with the Brazilian – they played overnight – as two players qualify for the knock-out stages of the tournament.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer