Ellen Keane was ‘relieved in a weird way’ that Paralympic Games were delayed a year

Ellen Keane (Image: Getty Images)

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Irish swimmer Ellen Keane has told how she was “relieved in a weird way” that the 2020 Paralympic Games were delayed for a year — as she used the time to “get mentally stronger”.

The 26-year-old won gold — and Ireland’s first medal in the 2020 Paralympics — in the Women’s 100m breaststroke SB8.

New Zealand’s Sophie Pascoe and the Russian Paralympic Committee’s Adelina Razetdinova placed second and third respectively.

Ellen told the Irish Daily Star : “I think I was relieved, in a weird way. Obviously, you can’t have a Games during the pandemic where no-one knows anything about the pandemic itself or the virus.

“So, the thought of having the Games where no-one was able to qualify and nobody knew if they’d be able to be there, it was really hard — it was really stressful, as an athlete, not knowing what was going to happen.

“But when it got postponed last summer, it was like a sigh of relief because it was like, ‘okay, now we can try and heal together and focus on next year’.”

The Dubliner added that if the Paralympic Games had gone ahead last year, she wasn’t sure whether she would have come home with a gold medal.

She continued: “I think I actually needed that time to manage myself and figure out how to get mentally stronger. And that’s why I was able to do what I did, because of my mental strength.

Ireland’s Ellen Keane
(Image: ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson)

“Sophie, who came in second, is a nine-time gold medalist (and won two more in Tokyo) — and people don’t beat Sophie. I nearly panicked when I saw the entry list a few days before the race, I was just not expecting her to be there.

“She was so cool, and it was great to do a race that was fun to watch — I’ve heard a lot about how fun it was to watch — and it was a great way to win.”

Standing on the podium as she received her gold medal was a “really special” moment, especially as all she could hear were her teammates cheering her on.

She said: “Even with the stadium being pretty much empty, I could hear my teammates — they were all I could hear on the podium. And that was really lovely because, obviously, it’s a team effort and we’re all in this together.

“That was kind of the environment that we created and the atmosphere that was around us. It was just really, really lovely to be able to to hear them.

“And then hearing the national anthem… I think I was just having fun.”

The supportive and uplifting environment among teammates was something that really stood out for Ellen, as she opened up about her favourite part from her time in Tokyo.

Ellen Keane
(Image: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile)

She said: “I think the swim team itself just had a really good time together and we were really supportive of each other.

“We’d created that environment where we were there for each other and it was exciting to see everyone compete. And it was also the first time in a long time that we’d been on an international stage, so seeing how other countries were doing — and even ourselves — was great.

“Even Róisin (N Riain), it was her first Games and seeing her progress and getting PBs across the board was great to see. And Nicole (Turner), I went to go see her win the silver. I train with her and I think I was more stressed and more emotional about her winning that silver than I was about my own medal.

“We all just enjoyed the time we had together out there and it was a wonderful experience. We’re going to have these memories now for the rest of our lives.”

Ellen told how she found people not being able to attend the Games this year “difficult” — but it just made her homecoming experience last week all the more special.

She explained: “People not being able to be over there wasdifficult, because that’s what makes the Games — the atmosphere and the crowd.

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“But coming home and getting the opportunity when I came home to have the crowd there, to share the medal with them. It was a really special thing to be able to do — especially knowing how much it meant to everyone in the background, who I might not have known or who was just even watching the race. It was lovely to show them the medal.”

Ellen has inspired people around the country — and it is a responsibility that the 26-year-old said she takes “very seriously”.

She said: “I think if you’re a sports person, you do have a role to play in inspiring other people — and it’s a privilege to be a sportsperson.

“It’s a privilege to be able to do what I love as a job and to get paid for it, as well.

“It’s about inspiring the next generation and using my platform to educate people, and to make sure that everything is being treated fairly and that’s what I try to do.”

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