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Our stars take home 3 golds in a truly amazing 48 hours

By Chris Kilpatrick

Widely tipped to deliver a Northern Ireland goldrush prior to the games — our Paralympian heroes certainly haven’t disappointed.

Three gold medals were secured in a remarkable 48 hours for Northern Ireland sport — with confidence brimming that more gongs are set to wing their way here in the coming days.

Jason Smyth — dubbed ‘the Paralympian Usain Bolt’ — and pal Michael McKillop raced into the record books with their gold-medal winning performances on what was a super Saturday for Northern Ireland.

They were backed up in the pool by golden girl Bethany Firth, who at just 16 is a swimming sensation.

Jason, who despite being visually impaired only narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games, took first place in the 100-metre final in a record time of 10.46 seconds leaving the rest of the field for dead.

He’s now being feted as the fastest Paralympian in history.

The 25-year-old from Eglinton said afterwards: “Coming in as champion, you are under pressure to retain your titles, so thankfully I was able to do that. It was an added bonus to run quickly and break the world record again.

“To be in that stadium with 80,000 people, half of them seeming like they’re Irish cheering, and even the British were really supportive, makes the whole Games a lot better.”

At the time of winning their medals, the three Northern Ireland athletes equalled the entire gold medal haul for Team GB.

Michael revealed how watching Jason’s victory inspired him to glory in the 800m event.

The 22-year-old from Glengormley, who has cerebral palsy, also defended his 2008 Beijing Paralympics title in world-record time.

“We are best friends and room-mates,” he said.

“I could not have walked into that bedroom tonight without a gold medal around my neck.”

Alliance Newtownabbey councillor John Blair is tipping Michael for more glory.

“This is his second gold medal and was very well deserved for such a dedicated athlete,” he said.

“Not only did he win a gold medal but he also set a world record time, which makes this result even better.

“This is a great achievement and I am sure we will see more victories from him in the future.”

Michael is back in action tonight in the 1500m final while Jason is on the medal hunt on Thursday, confident of bagging another gold.

Bethany from Seaforde in Co Down was Team Ireland’s first gold medal winner.

She lived up to her darkhorse tag to finish first in the 100m backstroke, despite suffering from a shoulder injury.

“She just enjoys swimming, and if she feels she's giving a good performance, that's reward for her,” her father Peter said.

Sally Brown from Ballykelly in Co Londonderry is hoping to be fit for the 100m later this week after sickness hampered her qualifying for the 200m event.

The teenager’s dad Richard said Sally is aware her best chance of glory may come in Rio in four years time.

“That's always on Sally's radar, she knows that's when she's going to be possibly at her strongest and this is a step towards that,” he said.

Our other athletes are also still in action and several are a chance of a medal.

Equestrian competitor Eilish Byrne from Armagh competes in the freestyle event today.

Meanwhile blind cyclist James Brown from Portaferry, who narrowly missed out a bronze in the tandem class, still has his strongest events to come and could well find himself in the medals.

Unfortunately Team GB's archer Sharon Vennard from Greyabbey has missed out on a place in the semi-finals of the women's individual re-curve after she was beaten yesterday morning by China's Yan Hui-lian.

Rostrevor backstroke swimmer Laurence McGivern (19) was knocked out of the competition before the medal stages.

Ellie wins hearts as the Games win hordes of devotees

British Paralympians are well ahead of their target medal tally of 103 — having almost reached the half-way point after just four days.

The Games is expected to welcome its millionth visitor on Tuesday and record TV audiences have prompted Channel 4 to clear its schedule to boost coverage.

Nearly three million people tuned in to see 17-year-old darling of the pool Ellie Simmonds smash the world record to win gold in a sensational 400m freestyle race.

Jay Hunt, the broadcaster's chief creative officer, said: “The coverage of the Paralympics has completely captured the public's imagination. We are clearing our schedule to bring viewers even more of this fantastic sport.”

Around 10,000 extra tickets are being bought every day as soon as they go on sale, as Paralympic venues experience unprecedented numbers of visitors.

“The whole of the UK has taken the Games to its heart,” a Locog spokesman said. “As soon as tickets have been released, they have been snapped up.”

Yesterday saw Britain take home six gold medals, six silver and one bronze in cycling, rowing, dressage, swimming and athletics.

The day got off to a winning start at Eton Dorney, as David Smith, James Roe, Naomi Riches, Pam Relph and cox Lily van den Broecke won gold in the mixed coxed four, cheered on by the Duchess of Cambridge.

Welshman Aled Davies, (21), later declared himself “the happiest guy on the planet right now” after winning gold in the discus.

The Duchess of Cambridge made a guest appearance in the Olympic stadium to present a gold medal to the discus hero. The Welshman was overcome with emotion and beamed with pride as Kate hung the medal around his neck.

There was a dramatic finale to the action in the Velodrome in an all-British gold medal contest, which saw Anthony Kappes and Craig MacLean beat Neil Fachie and Barney Storey in the sprint.

Teenage swim sensation Jessica-Jane Applegate, who has just celebrated her 16th birthday, said she was “on cloud nine” after landing gold in the 200m freestyle.

Britain also won gold in the team dressage event with Deborah Criddle, Sophie Wells, Lee Pearson and Sophie Christiansen, who also won gold in the single Grade 1A event.

Today, Simmonds will be back in the pool as she goes for her second gold of the games in the 200m individual medley.

Her “euphoric” dad Steve said he could barely contain his excitement during Saturday’s race.

He said she would be calm and collected for today, postponing her celebrations until after the Games.

“I was jumping up and down and making a complete idiot of myself in the last 50m,” he added.

“We are just glad and relieved she did it.”

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