Silver and bronze add to laurels for Special Olympics swimmers


WITH A silver and a bronze, Ireland’s Special Olympians added two more medals to their team’s tally in the second day of competition in the Athens games yesterday.

Winning Ireland’s second medal was swimmer Mary Gavin, from Templeogue, Dublin, who comfortably took silver in the 100m backstroke in a performance of great strength and pace at the indoor pool of the Olympic Aquatic Centre.

A short time later, her teammate Peter Oxley, from Tyrrellspass, Co Westmeath, clinched bronze by a split second in the 100m backstroke.

Since Ireland’s first medal in swimming on Sunday, the aquatic centre has become the focus of Irish support at the games in the Greek capital.

The swimmers, who will also participate in finals today, were cheered on from the gallery by a crowd of about 50 Irish supporters – a contingent by far the biggest and loudest in the venue.

Described as very independent, Gavin, who swims with Cheeverstown House club, was determined to attend the games by herself. The news that she had travelled to Athens without her family served to draw even more support from the wider pool of Irish support, including from the 200-strong group of Irish volunteers at the games.

Later, at the award ceremony outside the centre, the customary “olé, olé, olé” rang out as the two Olympians were presented with medals.

Speaking just after the awards ceremony, one of the aquatic team coaches praised the team’s performance to date.

“Every one of our swimmers who swam has got a medal,” said Pam Beacom, whose daughter Aisling took Ireland’s first medal, a bronze, on Sunday. “We’re absolutely thrilled.”

In contrast to Government Ministers who have proclaimed Ireland is not Greece – at least on the economic front – for Beacom the close affinity between the Greeks and Irish has contributed greatly to making the Athens games such a success.

The 2007 Shanghai games paled in comparison, she felt – “The Greeks are more like us.” The logistics and organisation of the games had been faultless so far, she continued. “It’s a beautiful set-up here. The transport has been fantastic and facilities are really wonderful.”

For most Greeks, the games have been overshadowed by the financial crisis. From this morning, an unprecedented 48-hour general strike over government plans to pass new austerity measures will result in huge disruptions to the Athens public transport system, flights and sailings.

The metro and 200 buses dedicated to serving the Special Olympics will continue operating, but athletes, supporters and volunteers can expect serious difficulties and delays in reaching venues.

Team Ireland will be in action again today.