For Ireland’s Paralympians, this was the day of days – two gold medals, one silver, one bronze, and enough euphoric tears to flood the sun-baked streets of Rio.
It was at Pontal, on the Southern coast, where they made the biggest splash – Galway cyclist Eoghan Clifford shrugging off a knee injury to obliterate the field in the C3 men’s time trial, coming home in 38:21.79, 69 seconds clear of silver medallist Masaki Jita of Japan.
His supremacy was so pronounced that it could be mistaken for having been routine, but Clifford was quick to note afterwards that that was not the case.
“Cyclists will always suffer,” he said. “It’s a sport where you suffer a lot, but I suffered more because of the injury. I was a bit angry today, not happy with the result earlier in the week. I wanted to prove I could do this.” Clifford, who competes in the C3 category due to having a degenerative muscle disease, had struggled badly with a knee injury on the build-up, revealing afterwards that he had been in constant pain for days, even on easy recovery spins.
“I had a rant at my coach,” said Clifford. “I told him I wanted to throw the bike into the sea and luckily he stopped me. I was always going to make the start line.” As Clifford was explaining the challenges he faced en route to gold, he stopped mid-sentence, craning his neck to catch sight of the Irish women’s B tandem pair, Eve McCrystal and Katie-George Dunlevy, who at that very moment were emulating him out on the course.
Their finishing time of 38:59.22 left them a whopping 33 seconds clear of silver medallists Japan, and sent a wave of emotion washing over them as they reflected on becoming Paralympic gold medallists. “We’ve been waiting to hear that for the last four years,” said Dunlevy.
Tandem pilot McCrystal knew if they avoided accidents, none of their 16 rival teams could match their ability. “We have the power so we wanted to do it on a course like this.” McCrystal revealed that she felt ill in the days beforehand, but thoughts of that were put to the back of her mind as she joined Dunlevy on the ramp. “I told her: ‘we’re going to win it,’” she said.
Earlier in the day, Colin Lynch fell narrowly short of the same achievement when winning silver in the men’s C2 time trial, clocking 28:02.25 behind Canada’s Tristen Chernove. To him, however, it felt like gold.
“This is something I’ve been working at for four years, it’s an absolute dream,” he said.
Back in the Olympic park, Ireland won its first swimming medal of the Paralympics through Ellen Keane, who finished third in the final of the SB8 100m breaststroke final. The 21-year-old from Clontarf clocked 1:23.07 in a race won by Canada’s Katarina Roxon in 1:19:44.
“I couldn’t believe it. I saw the three beside my name and was just freaking out,” said Keane. “Within the last 25 metres I just kept telling myself: ‘, don’t panic.’ There was so little between the top four.”
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