Commonwealth Games: NI's Bethany First wins gold and Daniel Wiffen takes silver in pool

Hosts: Birmingham Dates: 28 July to 8 August
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Para-swimmer Bethany Firth stormed to Northern Ireland’s first gold medal of the Commonwealth Games in the women’s S14 200m freestyle final, in an unprecedented night for NI swimming.

The six-time Paralympic champion, 26, clocked 2:07.02 to finish 1.54 seconds ahead of England’s Jessica-Jane Applegate in second.

Just an hour later at Sandwell Aquatics Centre, Firth’s team-mate Daniel Wiffen took a magnificent silver in the men’s 1500m freestyle to bring NI’s medal haul in the pool to three.

The Armagh man took a whopping six seconds of his own Irish record, as he raced to second in 14:51.79 with Australia’s Sam Short taking first.

Prior to these Games Northern Ireland had never won a medal in the pool, but have claimed three – one of each colour – in Birmingham.

Imperious Firth completes major collection

A Commonwealth title was the only major honour that had evaded Firth in the S14 200m freestyle up to this point, however she can now add it to an already glittering CV.

The Seaford native raced into an early lead and had opened up a 1.61 second gap between herself and Applegate by the halfway stage.

Applegate finished strongly and did narrow the gap in the final 50m but never looked likely to catch her Great Britain team-mate.

Firth has now won the S14 women’s 200m freestyle at Paralympic, World, European and Commonwealth level

Over the past 18 months Wiffen’s star has been rapidly ascending and he holds Irish records in 400m, 800m and 1500m.

Having swum a new PB in Friday’s 400m final, but missing out on a medal by an agonising 0.13 seconds, the Loughborough-based swimmer had his sights set on taking the next step in the 1500m.

He qualified on Tuesday with a comparatively leisurely time of 15:37.53, saving himself for an all-out assault in Wednesday’s final.

Wiffen and winner Short wasted no time in distancing themselves from the pack and engaged in their own private race for the guts of 1,000m with the NI athlete leading for much of the opening two thirds before the brilliant Short began to pull away.

But Wiffen’s second-placed finish was never in doubt, as he takes the next step on what is already a historic Northern Irish swimming career.

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By Jon Doe