Rio Paralympics: Bethany Firth sets world record in S14 100m win
County Down swimmer Bethany Firth broke her own world record in the S14 100m backstroke heats at the Rio Paralympics on Thursday.
The 20-year-old rocketed onto the swimming horizon four years ago at the London Games, striking gold in the 100m backstroke S14 class.
The Seaforde woman clocked 1:04.70 to beat her previous best time of 1:04.70 and is firm favourite to retain the Paralympics title for Team GB in the final on Thursday night.
She has been in fine form over the past 18 months, competing impressively in her S14 class as well as outside of it at Irish Championship level and as she prepares to represent Team GB&NI in Rio, the Paralympic champion is quick to point to the impact made by Ards club head coach Nelson Lindsay.
It was as a 13-year-old that Bethany first came to the club, having been encouraged to compete at schools event. Advised to join a club, she was pointed in the direction of Ards, which over the past decade has been at the forefront of Ulster and Irish swimming — last year receiving the Swim Ireland Club of the Year award.
“Nelson has been really good, he really pushes me in the water and makes me understand a lot better what I’m doing and sometimes when I’m down he picks me up but at the start I was actually afraid of him!” said Bethany.
“It took a lot of hard work at the start, working on the strokes and I’m still working on my strokes. I really enjoy training at Ards, it’s like we’re a whole family. When we’re in a lane together and we’re doing a really hard set you can always have someone to push you on and keep you going when you’re maybe struggling.
“It’s so good when you have to get up early in the morning and it’s cold outside and you know they’re going to be at the pool as well.”
Looking ahead to her competition in Rio, Bethany and coach Lindsay are quietly confident that she can produce some eye-catching performances, though they both agree that the competition has gone to another level.
“Watching the Olympics and Team GB was very exciting, they did so well — I loved watching Adam Peaty win his breaststroke gold medal,” added Bethany, who relaxes away from her intensive swimming regime by walking her dog Russell.
“I can’t wait to compete in Rio, I feel that I have been training very hard and I know there’s going to be tough competition out there but it’s exciting to be part of this.”
The build-up to this year’s Games has certainly been much smoother than in 2012, as Lindsay revealed she had to work around an injury in order to strike backstroke gold.
“From my point of view we were going into the unknown because for about two months leading up to the Games all Bethy could do was kick. She even had to have her hands by her sides because of the shoulder injury she had picked up,” said Lindsay, who is part of the Team GB&NI coaching set-up in Rio.
“That’s why she could only compete in the backstroke in London. I knew before she had the injury she would have the chance of gold but after the injury I was hoping for any medal but then she went even better which was fantastic.
“Since London I believe she has improved a lot — in every department she has made big improvements.
“One of the big improvements has been how she paces a race. This is obviously very important and I have seen in her races over 200m just how that has made a difference. For example, at the Scottish Nationals this summer she set a new S14 200m freestyle World record.
“She’s also much fitter, she’s stronger and her strokes are better. She now understands more why we train in different ways and overall her technical understanding has improved.
“It’s going to be tough to win another gold medal but she has done all that has been asked of her. One thing about Bethy is that she is very diligent when it comes to the sets we do in training. She’s very focused and I can always be sure that she is not going to make a mistake.
“She has made big strides for someone who came into the sport at 13 and has a great attitude. For me personally it’s very nice to be part of the Team GB set-up in Rio. It will be very special for me to be alongside Bethy as she goes for gold.
“All I want her to do is focus on her own race, swim her best — that’s all she can control.”