Paralympic debuts can a nerve-wracking experience at the best of times, but to do it at the age of 21, running from the front with a visual impairment, must make it all the more terrifying, writes Cathal Dennehy.
You could understand, then, why as Greta Streimikyte was handed the start list for yesterday morning’s T13 1500m heats, and her coaches outlined a bold racing strategy, the adrenaline surged through her system.
“My heart was exploding, like: ‘Jesus Christ, this is happening,’” said Streimikyte, who became an Irish citizen last December after moving to Dublin from Lithuania in 2011. “I was really nervous last night, but this morning I woke up and my teammates wished me luck, told me I could do this, so I forgot about the nerves.”
When the gun fired, she ran like a girl without a care in the world, towing the field through 400m in 79 seconds, eventually surrendering the lead to Spain’s Izaskun Oses Ayucar and Tunisia’s Somaya Bousaid, who would ultimately take the automatic qualifying spots, but Streimikyte dug in 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’ll have another fight on Saturday and now I want to achieve even more, maybe get a medal.”
One man looking impervious to nerves yesterday was swimmer James Scully, whose casual demeanour could be traced back to his experience at London 2012, where he finished fifth in the final of the 200m freestyle.
“I knew what to expect, having been to London,” said the S5 swimmer yesterday, shortly after advancing to the final of the 200m freestyle. Scully finished third in his heat in 2:53.17.
“I tried my hardest not to look around and focus on my own race, but I got a bit distracted at halfway,” he said. “I’m delighted to be here, to represent my country and to have swum a pretty fast time.”
There was no such joy for Ailbhe Kelly, who trailed home seventh in her S8 400m freestyle heat in 5:41.36 on her Paralympic debut, though the 17-year-old should be seen to 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.
Tandem cyclists Damien Vereker and Seán Hahessy could only reflect in regret after falling four seconds short of their goal in the 4000m tandem individual pursuit (B class). 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.
Ireland’s sole shooting competitor yesterday finished 19th of the 43 competitors. Sean Baldwin, a 48-year-old amputee, recorded a total of 598.9, which wasn’t enough to put him in the top eight and advance. However, Baldwin will get another chance in the R3 mixed 10m rifle prone qualifier tomorrow.