The unassuming 17-year-old Waterfoot Park native is the reigning Irish -57kg champion and was ‘honoured’ to carry her country’s flag and represent her sport as the 48 participating national teams made their way through the Slovakian city of Banska Bystrica and into the EYOF Sports Park in Štiavničky.
"I feel really honoured to be announced flag bearer for my country," she said. "It felt incredible to be representing my country and a dream come true. The atmosphere at the games so far is something out of the ordinary. Going through the town during the Olympic opening ceremony felt so special people from all around Europe shouting and cheering for all the athletes.
"It is amazing being in the company of thousands of athletes who want the same as you and all have the dream to be the best they can be. It really is an honour to be the flag bearer of my country."
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For many of the teenagers representing their countries it will be their first opportunity to experience a multi-sport event which takes place under the Olympic flag and boasts Olympic traditions.
The biennial EYOF, aimed at athletes aged between 14-18 years, is considered to be a potential gateway to the Olympic Games. Ten sports, including artistic gymnastics, badminton, judo, basketball, handball, road cycling, swimming, tennis and volleyball will be represented at the festival which runs from July 25th to July 31st as the respective countries showcase their brightest young stars.
Having starred in the opening ceremony, it’s now down to business for St Cecilia’s/LLS student Bethany who weighs in today (Tuesday) before competing on the mats in the preliminary rounds tomorrow morning.
Her parents, Mark and Roisin, and her younger brother, Thomas (11) flew out to Bratislava yesterday from Dublin before making the two hour trip to Banska Bystrica to lend their support.
And her father was beaming with pride as Bethany described to him on the phone, the ‘unbelievable’ experience of flying the tricolour at the opening ceremony of such a prestigious sporting event.
“She’s still buzzing about it,” he laughed. “She’s on a high at the minute. The experience has been unbelievable compared to being away on other Judo camps as she’s away with other athletes and making friends from other sports.
“She was away watching badminton and other sports so it’s a whole new experience and she’s gelling with others. Flying the flag for Ireland at 17 years of age is a privilege and she’s so honoured to do it. She just loves judo and for a judo player to be flying the flag, she’s just so proud.”
A member of the Konarakai Judo Club in Derry, Bethany has enjoyed plenty of success in recent years. An Irish champion at various weight categories for an incredible EIGHT years running, she qualified to represent Judo in this year’s EYOF by meeting the criteria set by the Olympic Committee.
Her dad explains: “Bethany won the N. Ireland Open in two different categories. She won her own category, the cadets and they entered her into juniors too, under 57kg and she won that too.
“She had to place in the English Open and she won bronze in the juniors in Telford. She placed fifth in Portugal in the European cadets 57kgs in Coimbra, Portugal last month. She also won the Irish Championships this year as well so she’s Irish champion. She’s been All Ireland champion consistently for the past eight years. Bethany has held the Irish title in different weights under 48 kg to under 57kg where she’s at now,” he added.
A former promising Derry City Ladies Football Club member, Bethany opted to concentrate fully on her judo career at the age of 14 when the sport became more demanding. She hasn’t looked back from that decision to swap the pitch for the mats as she’s thrived in the sport which she took to so naturally from the tender age of five under the tutelage of coach, Paul Green.
“Bethany is a very good footballer,” said Mark. “She played for Derry City Ladies at one time but she selected judo over the football. I had her down the Sports Complex one day playing football. She’s always been sporty. She was the only girl there. On the way back to the car I met Paul Green who used to be a neighbour of mine and he asked Bethany if she wanted to give it go. She went in and absolutely loved it. From then on she’s never looked back.”
Bethany’s not travelling the whole way to Slovakia just to take part or make friends insists her father who revealed her ultimate goal in the sport is to represent her country at the both the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.
“That would be Bethany’s goal, to get to the Commonwealths and the Olympics. She knows not to be jumping too far ahead and she’s one of the most grounded people you’ll ever meet.
You’d actually be surprised when you see her fighting that this quiet, unassuming girl does what she does. She’s very level headed but when it comes to judo she switches on.
“She’ll be targeting a medal,” he insisted. “She’s not going the whole way out there just to take part. That will be her mindset. She knows she’s got the ability to come away with a medal.”