Golden girl Bethany Firth in surprise switch to GB
Published 19/12/2013 | 01:30
London 2012 gold medallist and World championship silver medallist Bethany Firth has made a surprise switch of allegiance from Paralympics Ireland to Great Britain.
The 17-year-old, from Seaforde, who won the 100m backstroke in London has made the move due to personal reasons rather than any overwhelming desire to swim in a GB cap. Firth's request to compete for Great Britain has been approved by the International Paralympics Committee.
It is understood that despite her Olympic gold and World championships success in the summer when she landed three silver medals, the teenager was not happy with the overall environment she found herself in with Paralympics Ireland.
Bethany's mum Lindsey explained that the social aspect to the sport is vital for the S14 category teenager and that Team GB has other S14 swimmers – who have learning disabilities – with whom she can relate.
"I want to make it very clear that this has nothing to do with religion, nationality or anything political and it is not about finance either because she will not be receiving any more money. This is about Bethany wanting to be with people who she gets on with, who understand her and Team GB have other S14 swimmers who she is friendly with," said mum Lindsey.
"Unless you live with an S14 person you have no idea of the disability and how they need to be treated.
"Bethany was Paralympics Ireland's first S14 swimmer and they didn't know how to deal with her.
"It's hard because if you have a physical disability people can see it and they know how to deal with it but if you can't see the problem then people can struggle to deal with it because the person seems to be the same as anyone else on the outside.
"I must say her coach Nelson Lindsay has been fantastic. He doesn't treat her any different from anyone else but somehow he gets the very best out of her and when I ask him what her potential is he simply says he doesn't know because he is still learning and I have to give him all the credit."
Bethany's short term target is a shot at qualifying for the Commonwealth Games, where she cannot compete as a disability swimmer but is currently on the long list of Northern Ireland swimmers seen as potential competitors.
Lindsey added: "If she keeps swimming and she is selected then of course we would hope Bethany will compete at the Olympics in Rio."
Firth's Ards club coach Nelson Lindsay has no doubt that the teenager can thrive in the Team GB squad. Coach Lindsay said: "It's a good move for her because she wasn't happy any more going away with Paralympics Ireland because of the social aspect which is critical for her swimming. Though, I must say she got on well with the swimming coach Jim Lavery.
"Bethany's a great worker, she's very easy to work with and she has a lot of potential. Hopefully she will be in Rio in 2016 with Team GB."
Paralympics Ireland stated: "We would like to express our gratitude to her for all that she has achieved in her time competing with Team Ireland.
"Bethany's progress under the Paralympics Ireland High Performance Swimming Programme since joining us serves as a shining example of the potential within us all to achieve greatness.
"Bethany was and is one of the success stories of London 2012 for Team Ireland, winning as she did our first gold medal of the Games in the S14 100m backstroke final.
"Ultimately this is a personal decision for Bethany and we wish her all the very best in the future."