Lighting of flame begins countdown to Paralympics
GTHE PARALYMPIC flame was lit on top of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain, Slieve Donard in the Mournes, yesterday as the North’s athletes primed themselves to participate in the London Paralympics next week.
Local scouts began climbing the 850m Co Down mountain at dawn yesterday to light the flame marking the countdown to the opening of the Paralympics on Wednesday.
They lit the flame at 9.30am, with flames also lit on the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales around the same time.
The flame was brought down in a miner’s lantern for a family entertainment event at Donard Park in Newcastle. Further events are planned for Northern Ireland in the run-up to the opening of the Paralympics.
Eight athletes from Northern Ireland – four men and four women – are competing in the Paralympics with hopes that some gold will be brought back to the North.
Sprinter Jason Smyth from Eglinton, Co Derry, known as the fastest Paralympian on Earth, and middle-distance runner Michael McKillop from Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, are viewed as major hopes for gold.
Also competing and also with medal prospects are archer Sharon Vennard from Greyabbey, Co Down; sprinter Sally Brown from Ballykelly, Co Derry; cyclist James Brown from Portaferry, Co Down; equestrian competitor Eilish Byrne from Armagh; and swimmers Bethany Firth from Downpatrick, Co Down, and Laurence McGivern from Rostrevor, Co Down. Vennard and Brown are competing for Team GB, the other six for Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s Minister for Sport Carál Ní Chuilín wished the athletes well, noting how, “much like Oscar Pistorius, the South African ‘blade runner’ ”, some of the athletes also compete in able-bodied sports. Jason Smyth is the current 100m and 200m Paralympic champion who narrowly missed Olympics qualification. Michael McKillop is the reigning 800m Paralympic champion.
“We currently have eight top-class athletes from the North of Ireland preparing to take to the sporting stage, along with colleagues from across the island. All of these elite sports people demonstrate the values of these Paralympic Games – those of determination, courage, equality and inspiration. They are great ambassadors for the island of Ireland,” said the Sinn Féin Minister.
On Saturday, a ceremonial cauldron will be lit at Stormont, after which the Paralympic flame will be dispatched to eight locations for events marking the lead-up to the Games. There will be a “flame convoy” around the greater Belfast area and Belfast’s flame festival will take place outside City Hall from 6.30pm. Ballymena, Cookstown, Carrickfergus, Derry, Lisburn, Newry and Strabane also will host flame celebrations on Saturday.
At 8pm on Tuesday the Paralympic flame will begin its 92-mile journey from Stoke Mandeville, the home of the Paralympic movement in England, to the London Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony the following day.