Local athletes returned from a highly successful Sainsburys 2012 School Games in London last week, achieving medal success within 6 of the 11 sports that were competing, winning 2 gold, 5 silver and 14 bronze medals.
197 pupils from across the province competed in the Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre, Velodrome and ExCeL Centre, as well as other world-class London venues, to build on the excitement and inspirations of the 2012 Games.
Girl’s hockey provided the highlight in the early stages of the event, achieving gold medal success with victories over Wales, England Pumas and England Tigers respectively. Boy’s hockey claimed silver, narrowly missing out on matching their female counterparts with an agonising sudden death penalty shoot-out defeat to England. Ulster Hockey’s High Performance Manager Stephen Watt was clearly delighted with their performances and said:
“The School Games continues to be a terrific event that our players thoroughly enjoy. The performances of both squads, again, reflects very well on the development of players within Ulster Hockey and the U18 Girls winning gold for the second time in three years a welcome bonus. All the players thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the citing of the Games at the Olympic Park can only add stimulus to their ongoing development.”
Further success came in the Excel Arena with Ulster Badminton achieving their best ever performance, with Keady Smith and Alannah Stephenson winning silver medal in the girl’s doubles, Rachael Darragh winning bronze in the girl’s singles and Jonathan Harron and Ryan Stewart and winning bronze in the boy’s doubles.
Impressive local performances continued with NI Judo claming three bronze medals through Aimee McElhatton in the girls U48kg, Matthew Logan in the boys U81kg and Graham Malley in the boys over 81kg and by the NI Fencing team who won collected 5 bronze medals: Steven Pinkerton in the men’s epee, Niall Dowse in the men’s sabre, the girl’s sabre team, boy’s epee team and girl’s foil team.
On the final day the action moved into the Olympic Park where the young people were amongst some of the first athletes to experience the thrill and excitement of competing in the Athletics Stadium, Velodrome and Aquatics Centre, just 75 days before they will host the world’s top competitors at the London Olympics.
In the Athletics Stadium, Sally Brown added a bronze medal in the girl’s ambulant 100m to her growing list of achievements and will be hoping to return to the same venue to compete in the Paralympic Games later in the summer.
In the Acquatic Centre, Morgan Berryman won a silver medal in the boy’s 1500m freestyle, Keena Walsh won bronze in the girl’s 200m individual medley and Jane Roberts enjoyed a double success, winning silver in the girl’s 100m butterfly and bronze in the 100m backstroke. However, the stand-out performance in the pool came from Dungannon schoolgirl Namphon Steele who claimed a triple medal haul winning gold in the MD 50m freestyle, silver in the MD 100m backstroke and bronze in the MD 200m individual medley. Excellent performances which Team Manager Ruth McQuillan was keen to praise:
“The Olympic Aquatic Centre is an immense complex. Even with one side closed off for the School Games, the noise was deafening and the atmosphere in the arena was electric. Our swimmers seemed to rise to the occasion; there was a brilliant team spirit and they performed extremely well. This was an experience that we would not have missed for anything!”
The School Games is supported by a range of partners including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Youth Sport Trust, Sport England, Department of Health, ParalympicsGB, Sport Scotland Sport Wales and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure through Sport Northern Ireland.
The Minister for Sport in the north of Ireland, Carál Ní Chuilín congratulated the local athletes saying:
“Congratulations to all our local athletes who have excelled at this year’s games. Twenty one medals have been won which is a fantastic achievement for all who were involved. Taking part in sport isn’t just about winning it is also about enjoyment and fun. I’m sure the experience of participating at the Olympic Park will live long in the memory of all those who were there and will inspire many of our budding young athletes.”
Chair of Sport Northern Ireland Dominic Walsh commented,“I have every confidence that, for some, the School Games will provide a pathway to a career as a high performance athlete. For others, the Games may prove to be the peak of their athletic achievements. But of most importance, I trust that this experience will inspire life-long involvement and enjoyment in sport for all those who take part; a legacy that we can truly be proud of.”