Special Olympics: Team Ireland’s medal tally rises to more than 70

Dreams come true amid chants of olé, olé, olé at the World Games in Abu Dhabi

Team Ireland’s medal tally at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi has risen to more than 70. Video: Sarah Burns


Jean Anne Johnstone from Dublin could not help but cry as she stood on the sidelines of the basketball court having just watched her daughter Emma (22) win gold at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.

“I just can’t believe they’ve won,” she said, wiping tears from her face.

“It’s a great honour for her to be even at the games, but to win gold, it’s like something out of my wildest dreams.”

The Finglas native and her husband, Ronnie, have already decided they are going to come back to the United Arab Emirates capital for a holiday.

Ronnie told a local volunteer who had come over to congratulate the couple that “we’ve had an Abu Dhabi céad míle fáilte, that’s Irish for a hundred thousand welcomes”.

Emma said the Irish support had been “phenomenal” with about 400 family and friends travelling to the World Games over the past week.

“The support was absolutely amazing from all the Ireland supporters for all our games and thanks so much to everyone supporting us,” Emma said.

Green army

Chants of “olé, olé, olé” echoed through the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) on Tuesday as the travelling green army watched the ladies’ basketball team defeat India 27-15.

Sarah Kilmartin, another member of the basketball team, said: “I don’t think without their support we would have been able to do our best . . . It’ll be non-stop partying when we get back.”

Team Ireland’s medal tally at the games has risen to more than 70.

Hoping to add to that tally is Sarah Louise Rea (19) from Lisburn, Co Antrim who will find out on Wednesday if she has secured a badminton gold medal, depending on other results from her division.

Her father, James, said it was such a close match between Sarah Louise and a Thai opponent that he had to step out of the hall for the deciding set. “It was so tight . . . I just couldn’t watch,” he said.

Sharon, Sarah Louise’s mother, said the World Games had been an “amazing experience” for her daughter and the whole family. “It has brought her out of her shell because before she was very quiet, she wouldn’t speak to anybody. Now she just says what she says and gets on with it. I am just so proud of her.”

Matt English, chief executive of Special Olympics Ireland, said the World Games offered “lifetime experience” for athletes that they “mightn’t get otherwise”.

“They’re making friends from all of these different countries, and within the Irish teams they are making friends for life and discovering things about themselves that they didn’t know,” he said.