Catherine captures that elusive medal
CATHERINE O'NEILL secured Ireland's third silver medal of the London 2012 Paralympic Games on Friday last by coming second in the women's discus throw - F51/52/53 - with a throw of 5.66m, a seasonal best.
With two Paralympic Games already under her belt to make her one of Ireland's most experienced field event athletes, Catherine now has a first medal to her name.
The New Ross athlete could not contain her delight. 'My plan was to relax and throw a solid distance early to put pressure on the others. I knew they had been going all week,' she said. 'It was baking out there and the noise in the stadium is unbearable, particularly when a British athlete was in action. I just needed to stay relaxed.'
Having competed in both the 2000 Sydney and 2008 Beijing Paralympics, with a best finish of fourth in the discus in Sydney, Catherine did not hide her relief at finally landing an elusive medal.
'I have been waiting for this for a long time. This is my third Paralympics and you cannot understand how much this means to me. I want to thank those who have supported me and stood by me.'
Eventual winner Josie Pearson threw a world record 6.58m, and the loss of her world record was the only low point for an otherwise jubilant O'Neill, but she promised to fight hard to regain it.
'I lost my world record today and don't quite know how to think about that. I will enjoy the moment and look to chase that record back next year,' she said.
Head of Paralympics Ireland Athletics, James Nolan, commented: 'I am delighted with Catherine's performance. Her preparation has been very professional. Catherine had a fall during her warm-up and I was worried how that might impact her performance, but she put that to the back of her mind and just focussed on her performance'.
Nolan also revealed the strategy behind her performance and indeed how the Wexford woman hit her targets.
'Catherine, myself and her coach, Michael Bergon, identified between us that 5.65 to 5.70 would finish top three. Catherine went out and executed in her first throw.'
Catherine previously won gold in the discus at the 1998 Birmingham World Championships. She also won gold in discus and silver in the club at the I.P.C. World Athletic Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011. She can now add a well-deserved Paralympic silver medal to an already impressive haul.
Meanwhile, Gorey's Darragh McDonald came agonisingly close to a second medal on Saturday evening on the final day of action. Earlier in the day the 18-year-old was the second-fastest qualifier for the final of the 100m freestyle S6 when he finished in 1:10.59.
But even with a 1.5 second personal best, McDonald was touched out by the 50m gold medallist Qing Xu who set a new Paralympic record of 1:05.82 to take gold. The Wexfordman finished in 1:08.92, just .91 outside of the bronze medal position won by Cuba's Lorenzo Perez Escalona in 1:08.01.
'I'm happy with the P.B., it was a good race,' he said. 'The field was very strong, the lads that won deserved to win, they are very strong competitors and I have no regrets. I gave it my all.'
On missing out on the bronze medal the man from Wexford said: 'On one hand I'm disappointed I didn't medal but on the other I'm half glad because it will spur me on and create a new level of determination for continuing on.'
McDonald had also set a new P.B. of 33.15 in the heats of the S6 50m freestyle on Tuesday morning to go into the afternoon's final as the eighth-fastest. In the final, China's Qing Xu set a new world and Paralympic record time of 28.57 to take gold, with the Gorey lad finishing eighth in a time of 33.26.