Team Ireland's greatest day ever at Special Olympics

Team Ireland's greatest day ever at Special Olympics
Team Ireland's greatest day ever at Special Olympics

TEAM IRELAND had its most spectacularly successful day ever at the Special Olympics yesterday.

And as the medal haul hit 70, a nephew of John F Kennedy urged Ireland to follow up its best ever Games by changing the face of sport forever. 

Tim Shriver believes Ireland can once again be a “game changer” for Special Olympics by bringing its message into schools around the country. 

“I hope every school in Ireland will one day have a Special Olympics unified team on it, so that there is no longer any difference,” he said.

Unified Sports sees people with intellectual disabilities train and play together in an effort to break down stereotypes. 

Ireland already has a unified golf team and Matt English, CEO of Special Olympics Ireland, said they hope to see it brought into workplaces. 

“Where we see unified being really useful is where you have people with intellectual disabilities going into a company like Eircom and taking part in their sports days,” he said.

Yesterday, Ireland had its most successful day ever at the Games, claiming 37 medals. On a remarkable day in Los Angeles the team collected more medals than they did in the previous five days of competition. 

There were medal and merit ribbon wins for athletes from Antrim, Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Tipperary, Tyrone, Waterford, Westmeath and Wexford.

Eighty-eight athletes have spent the past week competing in 13 different sports at the World Games in Los Angeles. 

“Ireland got the second biggest cheer at the Opening Ceremony. Obviously you expect the biggest one to be reserved for the host nation USA, but my God we thought we were in Ireland when we heard the cheer go up,” said Mr English.

“All 88 athletes have done us so proud. They performed out of their skins.” 

Team Ireland will arrive back in Dublin Airport on Tuesday morning with dozens of medals in athletics, swimming, gymnastics, golf, basketball, equestrian, bocce and table tennis. 

On Friday it was the gymnasts who lead the way, picking up four gold, seven silver and three bronze medals at the Collins Court Wooden Centre. 

Our golfers also took a massive haul of eight medals. Other medals were won in kayaking, bowling, equestrian, athletics and aquatics. 

A big winner on Day Six of the Games was gymnast Billy Kane (15), from Swords, Co. Dublin, who clinched silver in the floor event, gold on the pommel horse, silver on the rings and high bar, gold on the vault and bronze in the all-round.

His exploits were matched by Paul Keane (34), from Ferns, Co. Wexford, who took a bronze on the horse, silver on the rings and high bar, gold on the parallel bar and silver in the all-round. 

And 20-year-old Shauna Stewart, from Coosan, Co. Westmeath, will be taking home a silver medal from the beam competition, a gold medal on the vault and a bronze in the all-round section.

The golf culminated with more success. Paul Kirrane (30), from Ennis, Co. Clare, and his partner in the alternate shot competition, 72-year-old Patrick Rutherford, won bronze.

There was a gold medal for Margaret Carr (54), from Calry, Co. Sligo, while both Leo O’Brien (18), from Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow, and Donegal man Oliver Doherty (39), won silver medals.

Rosemary O’Reilly (28) from Tara, Co Meath, took a silver in the Individual Skills. 

Finally, there was joy for 29-year-old Jill Connery from Scarva, Co. Armagh, and her playing partner Ursula McDonnell, from Belfast, who took a silver, while Trudy Hyland, from Lough Road, Co. Cork, took a fourth place ribbon in the 9-hole competition. 

Colin Farrell acted as a Special Olympics ambassador and said it was “an honour to be anywhere close to the experience that these athletes are having”.

Kevin Doyle