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Lewis out to make medal history

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Photograph courtesy of HYPERLINK "http://www.islandstats.com" www.islandstats.comReady to go: Lewis, front left, and DeSilva-Andrade, front right, at the Paralympic flag-raising ceremony in Rio

Jessica Lewis believes she has never felt stronger or fitter as she looks to become the first Bermudian to win a medal at the Paralympic Games.

The 23-year-old competes in the T53 100 metres tomorrow — her best event — with the heats in the morning and final in the evening at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

A bronze medal-winner at last year’s IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar, and a gold medallist at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto, where she lowered the record, Lewis is firmly among the frontrunners.

“I think a medal is possible,” Lewis said. “I’m not really focusing on where I could place, but obviously a medal is the ultimate goal.

“I’ll be looking to push the race as much as I can and I know what I’m capable of.”

Lewis is ranked fifth in the IPC world rankings and is among seven athletes in Rio to have shattered the 17-seconds barrier, with her personal best at 16.81sec.

Angela Barrard, of Australia, with a PB of 16.46, is ranked No 1, while Lisha Huang, of China, who won gold in the 100 in Doha, is second with a best time of 16.47.

“There are seven of us all under 17 seconds, so it’s going to be all about whoever wants it on the day,” Lewis said. “I think it will be an amazing race to be involved in. I’ve raced against a lot of these girls before so I know what to expect.”

Lewis admits she is weaker in her other events in Rio — the 400 and 800 — but has been working hard with her longtime coach, Ken Thom, to improve her endurance and hopes to at least make the finals.

“My season ended at the beginning of July so we’ve just been focusing on conditioning and endurance training, which will help with the longer distances,” said Lewis, who missed out on the 800 final in Doha, finishing sixth in her heat.

“I’m not as strong in those events yet, but I’m definitely getting better at the longer distances because of all the training we’ve been doing. I hope to make the finals.”

Lewis became the island’s first Paralympian in London in 2012, where she placed eighth in the 100, 200 and 400.

She believes she has improved beyond recognition both physically and mentally during the intervening years, but is still expecting a few jitters before today’s event.

“The nerves are starting to kick in a little bit, but I’m definitely excited and happy with my preparations,” said Lewis, who will be accompanied by her coach and her mother, Lorri Lewis, Bermuda’s chef de mission.

“I’m not as nervous as I was in London as I feel a lot stronger. I’m more nervous about the actual competing.

“I’ve come a long way in the past four years and I’m really looking forward to seeing where that puts me against the best in the world.”

Representing Bermuda for the first time at the Paralympics will be Yushae DeSilva-Andrade in boccia — a precision ball game related to bowls. DeSilva-Andrade’s event starts on Saturday.

“I’m so proud of Yushae and how far she’s come,” Lewis said. “It will be great to be able to cheer for a Bermudian athlete. That will be awesome.”

Slow ticket sales have overshadowed the countdown to the Paralympics, which has been downsized with venues being closed. Lewis, however, is encouraged that interest is picking up ahead of today’s opening ceremony at the Maracanã Stadium.

Ticket sales rise, page 37

Medal mission: Lewis is among the frontrunners in the T53 100 metres