LA rolls out ‘green carpet’ for Irish Special Olympians

Berkeley students send Irish flag to Downey in honour of balcony collapse victims

Special Olympic competitors at Dublin Airport as they left for the World Summer games in Los Angeles this week. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Special Olympic competitors at Dublin Airport as they left for the World Summer games in Los Angeles this week. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Team Ireland athletes participating in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games are busy preparing for the opening of the games tomorrow.

At the opening ceremony, the Irish athletes will be led into the LA Coliseum by actor Colin Farrell; Claudine Keane, wife of Irish soccer player Robbie Keane; and by Irish Olympian John Treacy who won a silver medal in the stadium at the 1984 Olympic games.

The ceremony will be attended by first lady Michelle Obama and performers will include Stevie Wonder, Avril Lavigne and Nicole Scherzinger.

The city of Downey in Los Angeles County welcomed the 88 Irish athletes, and their 40 managers and coaches, in style this week, printing the photos of all the competitors on the front page of the city’s newspaper, the Downey Patriot.

At a welcome ceremony on Wednesday night, Irish Consul General representing the western United States Philip Grant from San Francisco spoke of the special connections between Ireland and California, and how the host town was named after Irish immigrant John Gately Downey, the only governor of California – other than Arnold Schwarzenegger – not to have been born in the US.

For the host town ceremony, J-1 students in southern California sent an Irish flag to Downey in honour of the families of the Berkeley balcony collapse victims and survivors. Trainers for each part of the team signed the flag on behalf of Team Ireland at the Special Olympics.

Norman Houston, director of the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington DC, told the competitors that they were operating as great sports ambassadors for Northern Ireland and bringing much positive publicity to their home.

“The games are a very good way to promote both parts of the island and, for the Northern Irish athletes, it is a great opportunity to compete at a world-class level in LA,” he told The Irish Times.

Mr Houston read a letter from Northern Ireland Minister for Sport Carál Ní Chuilín in which she told the athletes she was behind them in all their efforts. The games were a unique opportunity “to compete as well as meet and form new friends”, she said.

“I would like to commend those who have worked so hard to make the participation of local athletes at the games a reality,” she said.