Streimikyte defies 'exploding heart' to secure spot in final
When Greta Streimikyte was handed the start list for her 1500m qualifying heat in Rio yesterday, she was, like many on their Paralympic debut, a bundle of nerves.
"My heart was exploding, like, 'Jesus Christ, this is happening,'" said the 21-year-old, who became an Irish citizen last year after moving to Dublin from Lithuania five years ago. "I was really nervous last night, but this morning I woke up and my team-mates wished me luck, told me I could do this, so I forgot about the nerves."
If she was apprehensive, she didn't show it. When the gun fired, Streimikyte (right) took command of the T13 1500m heat - a category for partially sighted athletes - from the outset, leading her five rivals through the opening 400m in 79 seconds. Though Spain's Izaskun Oses Ayucar and Tunisia's Somaya Bousaid outpaced her on the final lap to take the automatic qualifying spots, Streimikyte dug deep to come home in 4:51.75 and book her spot in tomorrow's final.
"The important thing now is to recover," she said. "I've got there, but now I want to achieve even more, maybe get a medal."
It was, according to the athletics team leader James Nolan, a race which was "executed perfectly".
Nolan, along with team coach Eimear O'Brien and Streimikyte's personal coach, Enda Fitzpatrick, helped formulate her race tactics early in the day, studying previous race patterns of her competitors and initiating a plan which paid off in style.
Elsewhere, James Scully made an equally positive start to his campaign, swimming a season's best of 2:53.17 to finish third in his heat of the S5 200m freestyle, booking him a spot in the final for the second successive Games.
"It's a good enough time," he said. "I'm delighted with the placing and to be able to get into the final."
There was no such joy for Ailbhe Kelly, who trailed home seventh in her S8 400m freestyle heat on her Paralympic debut, though the 17-year-old is likely to be seen to much better effect in Sunday's 100m backstroke.
"I was really nervous going in, but once I got that under control I enjoyed the race," she said.
A short hop across the Olympic park, cyclists Damien Vereker and Seán Hahessy could only reflect and regret after falling four seconds short of their goal in the 4,000m tandem individual pursuit (B class) qualifying. Their time of 4:20.139 in the first heat pitched them to head of the standings, but they could only watch helplessly as seven teams outpaced them in the final five heats.
"We did 4:21s in training and you'd expect to go more than a second faster in competition, but we didn't have it today," said Hahessy.
"It wasn't because we didn't have the legs, but because of the way this track is built. It's pretty weird and it's hard to find your groove."
Ireland's sole shooting competitor yesterday finished 19th. Sean Baldwin, a 48-year-old amputee from Newbridge, recorded a total score of 598.9, which wasn't enough to advance. However, he will get another chance in the R3 mixed 10m rifle prone qualifier tomorrow.