Ireland’s youngest Paralympian overcomes nerves to reach final

Despite being the youngest member of the Irish team, Nicole Turner certainly didn’t perform like a novice on her Paralympic debut, writes Cathal Dennehy.

The 14-year-old swimmer from Portarlington was reflecting with pride after reaching the final of the S6 women’s 50m butterfly final.

Turner placed second in her morning heat in 38.44 seconds to advance to the final as the fourth fastest and afterwards, the teenager was suitably beaming with pride. “I’m really happy,” she said. “It wasn’t a PB but to make it through was great.”

Nicole Turner during a swimming training session at the Olympic Aquatic Stadium. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Nicole Turner during a swimming training session at the Olympic Aquatic Stadium. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Turner admitted that despite rarely being ruffled, even at this lofty level of competition, she felt the weight of the occasion when she went to her blocks. “I don’t really do nerves, but when I came out I was a bit nervous,” she said. “But the experience and atmosphere was just incredible. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The 50m butterfly was the first stop in what will be a busy schedule for Turner this week, with the 50m freestyle heats awaiting tomorrow and three other events to come next week.

Dublin swimmer James Scully, who finished sixth in the S5 200m freestyle final on Thursday night, will return to action in the 50m freestyle on Monday but he was also reflecting with pride after his performance. “It was the pinnacle moment of my career to date,” said Scully, who set a lifetime best of 2:51.45. “I’ve been chasing a PB and come up short so many times since London, there’s been so much heartbreak, but this is when it counts.”

Elsewhere, Rena McCarron Rooney opened her campaign in the table tennis singles class qualifier against China's Jing Liu but was outclassed from the start, losing in straight sets 11-9, 11-4, 11-2.

“I knew it was going to really tough,” said McCarron Rooney. “She is the Paralympic champion from Beijing and London, so I knew what to expect. My goal was to get my own game going, which I did. I served really well but she has an amazing reach and she was just too strong for me.”

Looking ahead, the Irish team is expected to add to its current medal haul over the weekend. Greta Streimikyte will hold an outside chance of reaching the podium in the T13 women’s 1500m final at 3:13pm tomorrow afternoon, while Michael McKillop will be the overwhelming favourite for gold in the T37 1500m final on Sunday afternoon.

For the 7-a-side soccer team, the hope is to escape their tie with Brazil tomorrow evening with a result of any kind. They were comprehensively outclassed and outplayed when taking on Ukraine at the Deodoro Stadium on Thursday afternoon, losing 6-0, but head coach Barry Ferguson is hoping for a better display.

“It was a tough opener, but we’re hoping to get out of the game with something,” he said. “There are improvements we can make, and though we’ll be up against it in a tough game, we’ll go out there and give the best performance we can.”

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