THESE Paralympic Games are providing so many heart-pumping and heart-stopping performances, it’s easy to see why they’re proving to be such a big hit with British sports lovers.
And, as with the recent Olympics, by and large, Irish competitors are being treated to generous public support, almost like they’re home athletes. I haven’t figured that one out yet. But I guess it’s something to do with the innate decency of the spectators as well as the honesty, passion and commitment of the athletes.
Yesterday afternoon I went to the Aquatic Centre as a neutral observer. That mindset didn’t last long.
Clontarf swimmer Ellen Keane was in the final of the Women’s 200m SM9 Individual Medley. Four years ago in Beijing, Ellen was just 13 when she came 6th in the 100m breaststroke. Yesterday she was in with a formidable field in the Individual Medley final. Her qualifying time of 2.42.00 had her ranked behind the favourite Natalie du Toit (South Africa) and three members of Team GB, including Stephanie Millward.
So I wasn’t expecting much from Ellen in this one. How wrong can you be.
In case you don’t know, the Individual Medley is one of the great defining races in the pool. As the name suggests it’s a punishing combination of all four strokes in the following order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.
Despite a slower start from the blocks, Ellen made up the distance and by the first turn was catching up. Impressive stuff. I have to admit that by this stage I was caught up in the moment and found myself on my feet roaring encouragement.
At the half-way stage, Ellen was in a close second place and going strong. But by the time she hit the final quarter, some of the others began to pull ahead by crucial inches.
The favourite, Du Toit, won, claiming her
third gold of this tournament, her 13th Paralympic gold medal in total. But the |17-year-old Dubliner gave a great account of herself. Ellen admitted that she’d found it difficult to have to wait until then since she swam her first race on the first day of the Games.
She was a bit disappointed with her times yesterday. “I swam a season’s best 2.41 this year,” she said.
“But there’s more to come,” she added. Indeed there is. Tomorrow (Saturday), Ellen will contest the 100m breaststroke. If her first 100 metres yesterday was anything to go by, it could be a sensational race.
Also competing in swimming events tomorrow will be our London 400m Freestyle gold medalist Darragh McDonald (100m S6 Freestyle) and James Scully (100m S5 Freestyle) who’ll be striving to improve on his three European Championship places last year.
A recurring shoulder injury forced Ireland’s gold medal winner Bethany Firth to pull out of yesterday’s 100m SB14 |breaststroke.
On an unrelated topic, while not |wishing to sound disparaging, there was a sense of the inevitable when Team GB drew 1-1 with China in the five-a-side football semi-final yesterday.
You guessed it. China went through 2-1 on penalties.