Let the games begin again: Paralympic team depart for training

Fri, Aug 17, 2012, 01:00

THE IRISH Paralympic team left Dublin with high hopes for medals yesterday morning as they travelled to a training camp in Portugal ahead of the London Games, which start on Wednesday, August 29th.

All 49 members of the team – plus their back-up team of 47 coaches and helpers – flew to Lisbon for a week-long training camp in Coimbra, north of the capital. Many had a late night at the Bewley’s Dublin Airport hotel, where 1,000 friends and supporters attended a farewell event featuring The Saw Doctors. Current Paralympic 800m champion Michael McKillop said it was set up to get away from friends, family and the media and to concentrate on the task ahead.

“We’re going to do a job. It’s been our job for four years,” he said. “We’re going to Portugal to tinker a few things.”

Paralympic Ireland chief executive Liam Harbison said they were “quietly confident” of reaching the Irish Sports Council’s target of at least equalling the Beijing tally of five medals, including three golds. The ISC has earmarked four sports where medals could be won. Mr Harbison said Ireland looked particularly strong in athletics, where sprinter Jason Smyth and McKillop are both defending their Paralympic titles.

He said they were also confident of success in cycling and swimming, while there was also potential for a medal in equestrian events or boccia, a sport similar to bowls.

The team boasts five world champions in eight disciplines, including Catherine O’Neill, who won discus gold at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Athletic Championships last year.

One of those with a chance of a medal is hand-cyclist Mark Rowan (31), a former Westmeath under-age footballer who was confined to a wheelchair after a motorcycle crash in 2001. He won gold at the World Handcycling Championships in 2010 and the World Paracycling Cup (Time Trial) this year.

The team will arrive in London on August 24th.