Northern Ireland

How did NI’s Paralympians get on in Tokyo?

Bethany Firth has now won six Paralympic gold medals at the age of 25

Just like that, the Paralympic Games have come to an end in Tokyo.

There was success for Northern Ireland’s golden girl, a battling gold for the unbeaten king and heartbreak as the career of Paralympic great came to a close.

Here is how Northern Ireland’s seven Paralympians fared in Tokyo.

Jason Smyth – Athletics – Ireland

Jason Smyth
Jason Smyth had to fight hard to maintain his unbeaten record

Jason Smyth headed to Tokyo as an undefeated legend of the sport. He held on to his crown – but only just.

Unbeaten in Paralympic competition, Smyth was pushed to the limit in the T13 100m by Algeria’s Skander Djamil Athmani, with the Irish sprinter winning by 0.01 seconds. Talk about tight.

It was his fourth goal medal in the discipline in a row, and when you add his T13 200m victories from 2008 and 2012, it takes his Paralympic gold medal tally to six.

He had to fight for it, but he has only further cemented his position as the greatest Paralympic sprinter of all time.

Bethany Firth – Swimming – Great Britain

Bethany Firth
Bethany Firth has now won nine Paralympic medals – six of which are gold

Heading into Tokyo with four Paralympic gold medals to her name, Bethany Firth had a stunning Games and returns to Northern Ireland with another two golds and two silvers.

With the added pressure of being one of GB’s biggest names, after her surprise breakthrough year in 2012 for Ireland, Firth responded to the weight of expectation in style.

Firth won a third successive gold in the S14 women’s 100m backstroke, and had a second visit to the top of the podium when she helped GB win the S14 mixed 4x100m freestyle race.

There were also silvers in the S14 200m freestyle and the SM14 individual medley, which takes her Paralympic medal tally to nine. What a performance by the Seaforde swimmer.

James MacSorley – Wheelchair Basketball – Great Britain

James MacSorley celebrates winning a bronze medal with Great Britain
James MacSorley (left) celebrates winning a bronze medal with Great Britain

It may have been a first Paralympics for Belfast’s James MacSorley, but he came away with a medal after helping Great Britain win wheelchair basketball bronze on the final day of the Games.

The 26-year-old featured in five of GB’s eight matches, including the bronze-medal match against Spain.

MacSorley, who plays for Spanish club ADM Econy Gran Canaria, has now added Paralympic bronze to his World Championship gold from 2018, where he made his senior debut for Great Britain.

Michael McKillop – Athletics – Ireland

Michael McKillop was embraced by his 1500m competitors as his Paralympic career came to an emotional end
Michael McKillop was embraced by his 1500m competitors as his Paralympic career came to an emotional end

From success to heartbreak. Michael McKillop arrived in Tokyo knowing it would be a tough ask to add to his four Paralympic golds in the T38 1500m.

He triumphed in the T37 800m in Beijing and completed an 800m and 1500m double in London four years later before a fourth success in Rio.

The 31-year-old saw his 13-year unbeaten record in Para-competition come to an end at the 2019 World Championships, which followed all middle-distance events being removed from his T37 category as the Glengormley hero, who was born with a mild form of cerebral palsy, had to move to T38.

Ultimately, McKillop’s race was a difficult watch as he struggled to eighth place before breaking down in tears after he crossed the line. However, in what provided one of the photos of the Games, his competitors consoled the Belfast runner and his hand was held aloft by French runner Louis Radius in respect of his achievements.

Prior to the Games, McKillop had said he would likely retire if he failed to win a medal. He wouldn’t commit either way in the immediate aftermath of the race, but he did confirm his Paralympic career had come to a close.

Defiant and strong right to the end. If that was to be the last time we see you on track, thanks for the memories, Michael.

Claire Taggart – Boccia – Great Britain

Claire Taggart
Claire Taggart had a disappointing Paralympics for Great Britain

After taking up boccia in 2012, Claire Taggart was a relative newcomer to the sport when she reached the quarter-finals of her maiden Games in Rio in 2016.

Before the pandemic brought competition to a halt Taggart was in fine form, winning gold at the 2019 European Open and claiming individual silver and team bronze at the European Regional Championships.

Having had to shield for much of the pandemic Taggart’s preparations were considerably disrupted, but she received a boost in June when she was given sole access to a local venue enabling her to dedicate more time to training as the Games approached.

Taggart competed in both the BC2 individual and BC1/BC2 team event for Great Britain but she failed to progress from the group stage in either competition.

Barry McClements – Swimming – Ireland

Barry McClements was competing in his first Paralympic Games
Barry McClements was competing in his first Paralympic Games

In his debut Games, 19-year-old Barry McClements set personal-best times as he finished seventh in the S9 men’s 100m backstroke final.

He also swam a new personal best in the S9 400m freestyle but missed out on a place in the final by less than a second.

McClements was agonisingly close to a spot in the S9 100m butterfly final but missed out by just 0.66 seconds, and he was three seconds outside a place in the SM9 200m medley final in his fourth event of the Games.

Big things are expected from the Ards swimmer, who made a big impact in senior competition by claiming gold in the S9 400m freestyle at the Para Swimming World Series aged just 15 in Copenhagen four years ago, and there’s no doubt he will be back in Paris in 2023.

Phil Eaglesham – Shooting – Ireland

Phil Eaglesham
Former Royal Marine Phil Eaglesham put in a strong performance in Tokyo

Dungannon’s Phil Eaglesham returned for his second Paralympics, having finished 30th in the 10m air rifle event in Rio.

Shorn of the familiar beard from Rio, which he later said he viewed as a “disguise” during his own mental health struggles, father-of-three Eaglesham is a passionate mental health campaigner who hopes his own storyexternal-link can serve as inspiration for others.

The former Royal Marine had already made Irish para-shooting history, winning the country’s first ever World Championship medal when he claimed bronze in 2019.

That was enough to secure his place in Tokyo, and he put in a strong display at the delayed Games. Eaglesham finished 14th in the SH2 mixed 10m air rifle standing, 15th in the SH2 mixed 50m rifle prone and 21st in the SH2 mixed 10m air rifle prone.

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