Belfast Telegraph

Rio Paralympics: Bethany Firth on top of the world with gold win

Firth breaks record twice to defend her gold in Rio

By David Kelly

Bethany Firth smashed the world record twice on her way to winning back-to-back S14 100m backstroke gold medals at the Paralympics.

In the morning heats in Rio, Firth had laid down a marker when setting a new world record of 1:04.53 and in the final she went even quicker, winning in 1:04.05 ahead of Holland's Marlou van der Kulk, 1:06.33, and fellow Team GB&NI team-mate Jessica Jane Applegate, 1:08.67.

"I'm so chuffed with that but I couldn't have done it without the support of everyone back home - especially my church and my family," said Firth.

"God puts challenges in your way but shows you a path if you work hard and put your mind to it. Hopefully there's many more medals to come for the rest of the team.

"I'm so happy with that swim, but it's not just me, it's all the people that have supported me like my coaches, (Team) GB, my friends and family and my church back home. All of them have helped me to get here and I'm just so happy about that."

Firth had missed the World Championships last year due to a broken wrist but re-grouped and has been in great form since the start of the year.

"After breaking my wrist I had a lot of time away from the pool and I had to refocus myself and coming back I decided to focus more on myself and my swimming and just do what I can do," she said.

Earlier in the evening Britain's Ollie Hynd had won gold in the S8 400m freestyle. Firth added: "Seeing Ollie win the gold and break that world record really pushed me on.

"We've got a great team behind us and they're all so strong so it wouldn't surprise me if there were a lot more medals to come."

Four years ago Firth burst onto the Paralympic swimming stage when as a 16-year-old she struck gold in the S14 100m back despite injury.

The Seaforde woman had gone to London on the back of working around a serious shoulder problem, which meant she could only enter one event, but in Rio she is bidding for medals in three further disciplines - the 200m freestyle, 100m breaststroke and 200m individual medley. Next up is the freestyle on Sunday.

Firth walked into the Ards club as a 13-year-old with a natural talent for the pool and that has been finely honed by coaches Nelson Lindsay and Davy Johnston.

Lindsay said: "She is a naturally talented athlete who would be good at any sport she turned her hand to. I'm just glad that she chose swimming. Normally late starters have difficulty learning all the skills, but Bethy's managed them really well."

Lindsay was in the arena last night as one of the Team GB coaches, while Johnston, along with Firth's Ards team-mates, was at home watching on television.

Coach Johnston described her performance as one that was "perfectly executed".

A beautiful start set her apart from the rest of the field and at the 50m mark there was only ever going to be one winner.

Johnston added: "That was a brilliant performance from Bethany - we're all so proud of her.

"The most encouraging thing for me is that she looks so relaxed and I would say that has a lot to do with the fact that Nelson is with her in Rio.

"There was a lot of expectation on her shoulders and she has dealt with it very well.

"To break the world record by a total of three and a half seconds in one day is just fantastic. Nobody deserves it more because at training she is the first one there and the last to leave. She's the captain of our whole club and we couldn't ask for a better role model.

"She's an inspiration to every one of the other 170 swimmers at the club and I believe she will go on and medal again.

"You can see how strong she is now in the water and that's a credit to the help she has received from SINI and funding from British swimming."

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