History-maker Bethany Firth revelled in defying the pressure to complete her full set of major golds on a fantastic night for Northern Ireland that produced two medals in the pool.
Firth, 26, was in full control as she stormed to the women’s S14 200m freestyle title to add Commonwealth glory to the Paralympic, world and European golds she already has in her extensive collection.
Barry McClements took his country’s first ever swimming medal with bronze on Friday before Firth’s win was swiftly followed by Daniel Wiffen’s silver in the men’s 1500m freestyle, taking six seconds off his own Irish record on Wednesday night.
Firth said: “It feels amazing. We have such a great team here from Northern Ireland.
“I was under so much pressure as this would give me the full collection, I have Paralympic, world and European gold. This is the one I didn’t have, so I really wanted to complete the collection and show what I can do.
“It means the world to me they’re showcasing more para events and since it was announced they were holding this race, I wanted to come out and make a mark as the first women’s 200m S14 winner, put the standard out there to show what we can do and hopefully inspire people.”
This summer, Team Northern Ireland, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will compromise of over 100 athletes, all vying for medal success.
Six-time Paralympic champion Firth was delighted to put her nation further on the map and said her golden moment will live long in the memory after Northern Irish sporting royalty and three-time Commonwealth champion Mary Peters presented the medal.
“It’s a memory I’ll never forget,” explained Firth.
“I was so touched when I saw her there and to be presented by her… her getting gold, then me getting gold, it just shows that even though we’re from such a small nation, we can definitely perform on this world stage.”
In the build-up to the race, Firth said she needed to find her “happy place” in Birmingham to achieve sporting nirvana but having succeeded with that, she can find peace on a beach in south-east Asia where she jets off on honeymoon for six weeks on Tuesday.
Husband Andrew saw his wife compete for the very first time in person and witnessed greatness at a deafening Sandwell Aquatics Centre.
After adding to her golden glow abroad, Firth insists she has more to give on the path to Paris 2024 for what will be her fourth Paralympic Games.
She said: “There is more in me. Paris is only two more years away so I just want a clean season of full training and show everyone what I can really do.
“The crowd supported all the home nations; the atmosphere is amazing and there’s such a good vibe.
“I can finally go on honeymoon now! It has been quite a season, getting married, going to worlds then coming here. I can finally enjoy some time off.”
Firth completed her set of medals and Wiffen ensured Northern Ireland did the same as a stunning swim made his dreams come true.
Wiffen, who was an extra in Game of Thrones, has had a phenomenal 18 months and capped a terrific Games by finishing second behind Australia’s Sam Short.
The 21-year-old is now gunning for the Olympic podium but first is looking forward to celebrating with a well-earned pint of Guinness.
He said: “I’m really chuffed. A massive PB again, we just keep building. The goal was gold but I’m very happy with a medal, the only one we haven’t got yet.
“To come away with second is all I could have dreamed of. I want to push on and medal in Paris. Who knows what the limit is?
“It’s the best NI have ever been at swimming, we’ve never had a medal before, and it’s so much fun being on this team.”
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