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‘I really wanted that’: Bethany Firth wins sixth Paralympic Games gold medal with 100m backstroke hat-trick

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Bethany Firth celebrates with yet another Paralympic gold medal. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Bethany Firth celebrates with yet another Paralympic gold medal. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Bethany Firth reacts to winning another Paralympic Games gold medal. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Bethany Firth reacts to winning another Paralympic Games gold medal. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Bethany Firth has now won six Paralympic gold medals. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Bethany Firth has now won six Paralympic gold medals. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Getty Images

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 02: Bethany Firth of Team Great Britain reacts after winning the gold medal during the women's 100m Backstroke - S14 final on day 9 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on September 02, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 02: Bethany Firth of Team Great Britain reacts after winning the gold medal during the women's 100m Backstroke - S14 final on day 9 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on September 02, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Getty Images

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 02: Bethany Firth of Team Great Britain reacts after winning the gold medal during the women's 100m Backstroke - S14 final on day 9 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on September 02, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 02: Bethany Firth of Team Great Britain reacts after winning the gold medal during the women's 100m Backstroke - S14 final on day 9 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on September 02, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Handout photo dated 02/09/2021 provided by OIS of Bethany Firth GBR celebrates with Jessica-Jane Applegate GBR after she wins the Swimming Women's 100m Backstroke - S14 Final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre during day nine of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Japan. Picture date: Thursday September 2, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story PARALYMPICS Swimming. Photo credit should read: Photo credit should read: Thomas Lovelock for OIS/PA Wire. NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Handout photo dated 02/09/2021 provided by OIS of Bethany Firth GBR celebrates with Jessica-Jane Applegate GBR after she wins the Swimming Women's 100m Backstroke - S14 Final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre during day nine of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Japan. Picture date: Thursday September 2, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story PARALYMPICS Swimming. Photo credit should read: Photo credit should read: Thomas Lovelock for OIS/PA Wire. NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

PA

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Bethany Firth celebrates with yet another Paralympic gold medal. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Bethany Firth has won her sixth Paralympic Games gold medal by coming out on top in her signature event, the S14 women’s 100m backstroke, by almost one second with a commanding performance.

Firth has now won the race in three successive Games, having first taken gold in London in 2012 and successfully defended the title four years later in Rio.

The Seaforde star has now won nine Paralympic medals in all, adding three silvers.

"I really wanted that race so badly. I got it in London and Rio and this is the one I've been waiting for all week," she said.

"I spoke to my psychologist before and we talked about grounding myself, realising why I'm here, looking at my cross and keeping the faith.

"I just wish my family were here so I could do it with them because I wouldn't be here without them.

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"Swimming's my happy place and when it got taken away from me during the pandemic, I really struggled, I needed them, needed my church and needed my coach.

"They all build me up so I’m glad to show them all their hard work wasn’t for nothing.”

Ahead of this summer’s trip to Tokyo, her training had been severely hampered not only by the Covid-19 pandemic but also by problems with shoulder injuries.

Nonetheless, she will return home having medalled in all four of her events, also winning gold as part of the Team GB mixed 4x100 freestyle relay as well as silvers in the SM14 women’s 200m individual medley and the S14 women’s 200m freestyle.

"I always say nothing's impossible with God and I truly believe that,” she said. “Coming into this, I just wanted to show people what you could do even though the year's been crap. You can still come out and fight.

"In sport, people only care if you win gold or silver but everyone here should be so proud to be at the Paralympics and doing it in front of their country and the world. That's what it should be about, not the medals."

Firth, 25, went into Thursday’s backstroke final as the fancied favourite, not just because of her historic success but also because she led the qualifying times after clocking a 1:07.16 in her heat.

In the final, she had the quickest reaction time of 0.54 seconds and never looked like surrendering that advantage, leading at the turn and coasting home in a time of 1:05.92 to beat the Russian Olympic Committee’s Valeriia Shabalina by 0.93 seconds.

Firth’s Great Britain team-mate Jessica-Jane Applegate took bronze.

Firth has an intellectual impairment that results in memory problems and her mum Lindsey was keen to explain just how troublesome that proved during her spells out with three shoulder injuries and how big a role Ards Swimming Club coach Nelson Lindsay played on the road to Tokyo.

"She's a bit like Dory from Finding Nemo, she forgets things so Nelson has to reiterate things," Lindsey said. "When she was out for months on end with those shoulder problems, Nelson had to teach her the strokes again.

"This isn't just her medal, this is Nelson's as well for getting her into her happy place and teaching her to swim.

"Nelson was saying to us six weeks ago that her stroke was off because of the shoulder injury and we really didn't know how these Games would go but she's proved to us all that with her faith and with prayers from everyone, she's done it."

Also in action on Thursday was Firth’s Ards SC clubmate Barry McClements, who agonisingly missed out on a spot in the S9 men’s 100 butterfly final by just 0.66 seconds.

The 19-year-old Comber man is tipped for a big future in paralympic swimming and ends his Games having reach one final, the S9 men’s 100m backstroke, while clocking a personal best time of 1:05.76.

Meanwhile in Boccia, Larne’s Claire Taggart was part of Great Britain’s BC1/BC2 team that opened their campaign with two defeats, losing out 11-7 to China and 9-2 to 2016 Paralympic gold medallists Thailand. They’ll be back in action tomorrow against Argentina and the Russian Paralympic Committee.

Also scheduled for Friday is Belfast wheelchair basketball star James MacSorley’s semi-final, as part of Team GB, against Japan at 12.45pm BST.


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