Special Olympics: Jubilant welcome home for Team Ireland

Irish medallists greeted by friends and family on arrival from Los Angeles World Games

Ireland's Special Olympics athletes received a jubilant welcome home on Tuesday after winning a total of 82 medals at the Los Angeles World Games.

Arriving in Dublin Airport's Terminal 2, Team Ireland were greeted with elated cheers from friends, family and supporters in a crowd of hundreds.

Those there to welcome the delegation had been waiting for much of the morning.

The flight, originally due in at 8am, was delayed until 10.30am. Undeterred, the supporters generated a joyful atmosphere at the gates, singing, waving Tricolours and showcasing homemade signs welcoming family members home.

They also cheered on other surprised passengers arriving through the gates throughout the morning.

Many members of the LA delegation had arrived home the day before.

Waiting excitedly

Matt English, chief executive of Special Olympics Ireland, was waiting excitedly to greet the incoming athletes. "It's not about the number of medals, it's about each athlete doing their best. By that measure, this was a brilliant competition," he said.

Frances Kavanagh, senior director of sport with Special Olympics Ireland, was delighted by the turnout. "There are many young people here with intellectual disabilities, and seeing the reception the athletes receive is very encouraging."

Waiting for her son Seán “JP” Coleman (23), a double silver medallist at the Games, Fidelma Coleman, of Gortroe, Co Cork, said the games were key for opening up opportunities for the young.

Backstroke and freestyle

Her son had been involved in Special Olympics swimming since age 3. This week he took home medals in the backstroke and freestyle. “Seán defied the odds and was always smiling through it all,” she said.

There was a rapturous response as Team Ireland entered the hall, and the athletes were eager to celebrate the achievements of all their colleagues.

Timothy Morahan, of Rathmines, Co Dublin, who took home silver in the long jump and 4 x 100 metres relay and bronze in the 800 metres, spoke of his pride at the performance of all his teammates.

Rachel Ryan, of Templemore, Co Tipperary, praised Team Ireland's achievements. "I thought they were a good set of athletes. Everyone stuck together until the very end," she said. Ryan took gold in the 400 metres and silver as part of the 4 x 100 metres relay.

John Deevy from Waterford took home three medals in equestrian events, including a gold in dressage.

Deevy has long been active in the Special Olympics, having taken gold in the same event at the 2003 Games hosted in Ireland.

While a highlight of LA for him was the weather, Deevy was delighted to achieve success in an area he has been training for since his youth.

While the Games are finished, there is still celebrating left to do. As Ms Kavanagh put it: “Every one of these athletes is going back to a party.”