Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland golden girl Bethany Firth arrives home after Paralympic heroics

By Robert Jones

Brilliant Bethany Firth has arrived home to a hero's welcome when she landed at Belfast City Airport today.

Swimming sensation Bethany was the star of a highly successful Rio Paralympics for Northern Ireland's nine competitors, the Seaforde girl bringing home three gold medals and one silver, clocking up two world and a Paralympic record in the process.

The 20-year-old - Britain's most decorated athlete at the Rio Games - won gold in the 100m backstroke, 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley. Silver came in the 100m breaststroke.

There was also a gold medal each for runners Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop. Smyth won the 100m T13 final in 10.64 seconds while Ireland team mate McKillop showed his dominance once again in the 1500m, claiming gold in a time of 4.12.12.

Among the experience of our Paralympic champions, a number of athletes began their Paralympic careers.

Claire Taggart made her debut for Team GB in the boccia mixed team event.

The Larne athlete held her own against the world's top players and although the team was knocked out in the quarter-finals by the eventual gold medallists Thailand, Claire has secured herself the title of 'one to watch' in Tokyo 2020.

For the first time, NI had seven-a-side footballers competing for both GB and Ireland.

The trio of David Leavy (GB), Cormac Birt (Ireland) and Ryan Walker (Ireland) all made their Paralympic debuts.

With a final placing of fifth and eighth respectively, the experience the boys will bring back to the NI seven-a-side squad will be invaluable.

Phillip Eaglesham had to wait until day six of the Games to make his debut for Ireland in the 10m rifle prone.

While the Dungannon man just missed out on the final, Rio 2016 was only the beginning of his Paralympic journey.

Ballymena teenager Katie Morrow was GB's leading scorer in her debut wheelchair basketball match against Argentina, Katie and her team mates went on to secure a top four place.

Kevin O'Neill, CEO of Disability Sport NI, said: "The £1m support over the next four years, recently announced by the Department for Communities, will ensure we can continue to assist development of local elite athletes, as well as encourage participation in sport."

Elaine Reid, Disability Sport NI's Performance Manager, said: "Governing Bodies of Sport have been working hard to improve the pathways for athletes with disabilities and this hard work is reflected in the depth and quality of athlete that is being produced here in Northern Ireland."

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