Ireland select 44 athletes for Rio Paralympics
Champions Smyth and McKillop lead the team aiming to secure eight medals
The Irish Paralympic Team at the announcement of the Irish Paralympic Team for the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games at City Hall in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Paralympics Ireland announced a team of 44 athletes across nine disciplines for the Paralympic Games in Rio, which begin with the opening ceremony on September 7th and close 11 days later.
That number could increase if Ireland manages to qualify athletes for the Paratriathlon, the cut-off point for which is later this month. More than half the team will be competing in their first Games but there is a liberal sprinkling of not just experience but real quality.
The team includes three reigning world champions and a brace of defending Paralympic champions in Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop. The pair won two gold medals apiece at London 2012 but this time due to changes in the structure of the Games will only compete in one event each; Smyth in the T13 100 metres and McKillop in the T37 1500 metres.
They are not the only marquee names in the squad but they are arguably the most recognisable. Smyth, who recently won the national 100-metres title, is about to swap competition for training.
He explained: “It’s starting to get exciting. I have spent the last couple of months doing competitions and because it is such a long season into September I am going to go into a training bloc over the next month, build on what’s already been there and really look to sharpen up in August; hopefully to be flying in September.
“My focus now will be on training. The last little bit has been on trying to compete whereas now I am looking to get the volume of training in, just to sustain me all the way through September.”
He was philosophical about not being able to defend both his titles. “There are a whole host of reasons why they have taken the 200 metres for my category out of the Paralympics this time.
“There are only a certain number of events that they can have [in the Games]. They are trying to add in other events in other categories and obviously some have to go out because of it. Unfortunately one of them is mine.
“It is one [the 200 metres] that I had won in Beijing  and London . It’s disappointing but I still have the 100 metres to look forward to and it [the 200 metres] could be back in four years’ time again.”
He is in a good place mentally and physically. “Being at two Paralympic Games and winning at both, you go in a lot more relaxed and a lot more confident,” he said. Injury free
“Things have been going well this year and I am really happy where I am at. Number one is to stay injury free and then continue to build.”
Among other athletes who are expected to compete for podium places are Orla Barry, (F57 discus), who won a silver medal at the World Championships and bronze in London; and fellow Corkonian, the 16-year-old Noelle Lenihan (F38 discus), who recently broke the world record at the European championships and won silver in Doha at the Worlds in 2015.
Ireland boasts world champions in cycling in Eoghan Clifford and Katie-George Dunlevy with her pilot Eve McCrystal. Pat O’Leary makes a little bit of history, as Ireland’s first representative in Paralympics canoeing, while 14-year-old swimmer Nicole Turner is the youngest member of the team.
Paralympic Performance director Dave Malone said: “Our goal is to secure Ireland’s position in the top 30 [countries] in the medal table, a tall ask with 160 countries (4,350 athletes) competing: the target to secure that [goal] is eight medals.”