Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Day 3, Thessaloniki, Greece









Day 3

Today the European Championship (E.C) of the Deaf, Men & Women was officially declared open by Teddy Webb, General Secretary of the European Deaf Sports Organisation (EDSO).
All morning, we had the heats; it is in this round that the swimmers compete for a place in the final. Vincent McArdle missed out on the 200m Freestyle final by a few milliseconds! The rest of the swimmers qualified for the final and spent the rest of the afternoon mentally preparing themselves.

In the evening we had the opening ceremony. It was beautiful and welcoming. All the swimmers participating in the E.C were invited to walk the full length of the pool. Vincent McArdle was the flag bearer, he proudly led the team around the pool. It was only appropriate for a McArdle to carry the Irish flag, being the youngest member of the team (he is only 16 years old), his striking red hair, freckles and pale skin is so Irish that he doesn’t need to be carrying the Ireland flag to show that the team is Irish!
We were entertained by Greek dancers who were deaf. It was interesting to watch as drums beats echoed around the pool hall.

The long awaited event finally came: THE FINAL! Eoin Nolan was first up in the 200m Freestyle final. It was so nerve wrecking. Our Irish pride beamed the minute he put on his swimming cap, which bears the shamrock logo and the word Ireland. He admitted that his fierce rival was Natalchuk, from Ukraine who happened to swim in the next lane beside him. This heightened his nerves! The first 50m was unbearable to watch for the Irish supporters as it was so important that he gained the right speed and pace, if he swam too fast then that would mean his return lap could see him swimming slow. It was looking good in the first 50m as he managed to swim under 56 seconds. The second he tumbled speedily to start his second lap, we were on our feet roaring, edging him to win! To our delight, Nolan was leading! However, his rival was swimming at a threatening pace! He seemed to be catching up on Nolan. In the last 25m, Nolan said “ I looked up at the last 25m and I could see Ukraine beside me, so I gulped the last breath of air and just swam my heart out, I didn’t come up for air.” The minute he touched the finishing line, the Irish supporters were screaming with delight, not only had he come first but he broke the European Record!! “It is my first ever gold as well as my first time breaking a European record. I hope to win more medals during the week!” It was a good start for Ireland indeed! The European Record has not been broken for nearly 8 years!

Next up was Alan Turner (Coach) and David McIlroy in the 50m Breaststroke final. The supporters were on high from Nolan’s victory. The moment the two lads dived in the water, we willed for them achieve a good place! McIlroy was leading for the last 50m, it looked promising!! Turner was lagging behind, he complained of a sore hip before the race, it was obviously affecting his performance. McIlroy seemed to be our only hope of Ireland winning a medal in this race. It seemed likely until the 25m line was passed, other swimmers started gaining on him. McIlroy missed out on third place by only 3 milliseconds! He was rather cool about coming fourth. Turner came last unfortunately. The supporters were disheartened on behalf of him.

Our final Irish performance of the evening was the 100m butterfly, Kealy was up for this event. All eyes were on Kealy as he is a prestigious athlete in the swimming world. The atmosphere in the pool hall was quiet with a sharp air of anticipation. When the countdown started, the moment the lights turned green, 8 strong men dived in to the pool with one thing on their mind. Victory. Kealy seemed to be heading in the right direction, he swam fast in the first 50m making his first lap completed in 27 seconds, however, some were saying he swam too fast which meant his return lap would be affected. In the return lap, Kealy was leading, slowly two swimmers on each side to Kealy seemed to be gaining speed. We hoped that somehow Kealy would manage to overtake and touch the finishing line first. The German and Lithuanian managed to beat him first, leaving Kealy finishing in third place. We were delighted that Kealy finished in the top three! “I expected to finish in the top three, third is a good place but I would have liked to come first. The swimmers are now younger and fitter. I’m just glad I beat Grigoryev, from Russia who has been my lifelong rival since I was 17 years old.” In true sportsmanship style, he congratulated his team member, “I’m still happy as Eoin did fantastic today and I’m very proud of him.” Coming third place doubts in his mind “It hit me that I should have retired a long time ago but I love my swimming!.” Coming third came as a surprise to Kealy who hasn’t come third in any swimming event since the age of 17. There was sense of disappointment as he talked to Turner. However, this disappointment has not dampened his spirit. “I’m looking forward to my favourite stroke tomorrow, the 50m backstroke, no one has beaten me for 20 years. I don’t want those younger swimmers beating me again!”

Comment for the day:

Sarah Jane Moloney
IDSA Secretary

“It’s wonderful to be here supporting the Irish. We’re the loudest and noticeable fans in the pool hall. When the Irish athletes are in the pool, I get really nervous and I feel like I want to help them win by pushing them as they swim! Obviously I can’t do that! I’m so proud of each and every one of them! They are well-behaved and extremely liked by all athletes all over Europe. It seems a lot of people hold the Irish athletes in high esteem. They work extremely hard and get little recognition of the work they do in Ireland! Coming here has made me see the swimmers in a new light!”

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