Belfast Telegraph

Firth enjoys first action on equal terms alongside world's elite

By Nik Simon

Paralympic gold medalist Bethany Firth competed alongside able-bodied athletes for the first time at the Commonwealth Games.

The 18-year-old from Co Down once suffered from a water phobia but now she is competing alongside some of the best swimmers in the world.

Firth made her Glasgow debut in the women's 50m freestyle and 100m backstroke at Tollcross, where she finished eighth and sixth in her respective heats.

"It's great to be competing in mainstream events and the atmosphere is amazing," said Firth.

"My first swim isn't always the best so I'm looking forward to getting back in again.

"Team NI is really close and we all looking out for each other. I'm looking forward to following my other Paralympic team-mates in their events."

Firth's fast rise in the world of swimming continued last summer with three silver medals at the Paralympics World Championships in Montreal.

Firth suffers from a learning disability that causes her to have short-term memory loss. She has been balancing her preparations for the Games with a sports course at Bangor College of Further Education, where she enrolled in September.

Early starts at 4am have been necessary to fit in training sessions around her studies, but the teenager will be hoping to reap the rewards over the coming days.

Firth failed to qualify from her heats, but she will be back in the pool today for the women's 50m freestyle. She will be cheered on by the team of Northern Irish swimmers, some of whom were also in action at Tollcross yesterday.

Jordan Sloan was first in the pool for Northern Ireland. The 20-year-old from Bangor reached the semi-finals on the men's 100m backstroke on Thursday but he failed to qualify from the men's 200m freestyle. Despite setting a new personal best, he finished fifth in his heat.

"That's another personal best so things are going well after a shaky start in the pool yesterday morning, but a PB last night and today is great," said Sloan.

Young hopefuls Rachel Bethel and Danielle Hill – both 14-years-old – were in the women's 50m freestyle. Hill finished an impressive second in her heat but neither clocked a time fast enough to progress.

Last up in the morning session was Northern Ireland's men's 4x100m freestyle relay team. They faced stiff competition from Australia, South Africa and England, but it was a fifth-placed finish for the quartet of Sloan, David Thompson, Conor Munn and Curtis Coulter.

Michael Dawson was hoping for a strong performance in the evening session after qualifying for the semi-finals of the men's 100m breaststroke. But the Ards club man finished 16th in a tough field containing Adam Peaty, Ross Murdoch and Cameron van der Burgh.

The final Northern Ireland swimmer yesterday was Danielle Hill. One of the youngest members of the team failed to reach the final but will learn a huge amount from her experience at these Games.

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