“I was so nervous on the block. I was shaking. To give Ireland a gold medal means the world to me. Having my parents and my boyfriend watching it was amazing. I just have to thank all the fans for their support, and also my coach and our team.”
For months, Ireland’s Ellen Keane trained hard, took part in promotional events, gave dozens of interviews and tried to manage the anxiety and pressure of being the biggest medal hope of the host nation.
Now that the World Para Swimming Allianz European Championships is over, having bagged a gold and a bronze medal, Keane can finally think of well-deserved holidays.
“I am going to Euro Disney with my boyfriend. I really need some rest,” said the 23-year-old, who won the 100m breaststroke SB8.
“I was so nervous on the [starting] block. I was shaking,” she said after the race. “To give Ireland a gold medal means the world to me.”
To do it in front of some very special supporters made gold taste even better.
“Having my parents and my boyfriend watching it was amazing. I just have to thank all the fans for their support, and also my coach and our team.”
Keane put Ireland on the podium for the first time at Dublin 2018 with the bronze in the women’s 200m individual medley SM9.
To take a medal in an event where she was not the favourite helped ease the pressure for the 100m breaststroke final. But getting there was far from easy.
“It was probably emotionally the toughest race I have ever had because I knew I was capable of winning a medal. It was about staying focused on the race.”
Just the beginning
The day after Keane’s bronze, Nicole Turner won silver for the hosts in the women’s 50m butterfly S6 showing that there is more talent coming from the island.
For Keane even the Irish swimmers who did not take a medal at home have reasons to celebrate.
Patrick Flanagan, who missed out on bronze by just 0.26 seconds in the men’s 400m freestyle S6, is one of them.
“Nobody has to feel sad for any result. Some of the guys came here and improved their personal bests by many seconds. Patrick [Flanagan] was really close of winning a medal. I am really proud for the team,” said Keane.
Once she returns from holidays, Keane will start her preparations for the 2019 World Championships in Kuching, Malaysia, and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
She is already a veteran at the Games having competed in Beijing 2008 aged just 13. Rio 2016 brought her the first Paralympic medal, a bronze in the 100m breaststroke SB8.
But more than a boost in the preparations for Tokyo 2020, Keane hopes that her home win at the Euros can have an even bigger impact for Para sports in Ireland.
“The European Championships have been amazing. It showed people what Para sports are all about. I couldn’t be happier about what we achieved here.”