Northern Ireland athletes have continued to lead the way on the world stage at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, with our nine local athletes securing 6 medals including 5 Gold, making it the most successful Games to date.
Returning London 2012 medallists Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop were medal favourites and they didn’t disappoint. Smyth cruised into the 100m T13 final and secured gold in a time of 10.64 while teammate McKillop showed his dominance once again in the 1500m, claiming gold in a time of 4.12.12.
Amongst the experience of the existing three-times Paralympic champions, a number of athletes began their Paralympic careers. Newcomer Claire Taggart made her debut for GB in the boccia mixed team event. The Larne athlete, who has only been playing the sport for 4 years, held her own against the World’s top players and although she was knocked out in the quarter finals by the eventual gold medallists from Thailand, Claire has secured herself the title of ‘one to watch’ in 2020.
For the first time, NI had 7-a-side footballers competing for both ParalympicsGB and Paralympics Ireland. The trio of David Leavy (GB), Cormac Birt (IRE) and Ryan Walker (IRE) all made their Paralympic debut – with both teams unlucky to be drawn against the gold and silver medallists of the Games, as well as one another. With a final placing of 5th and 8th respectively, the experience the boys will bring back to the NI squad 7-a-side squad will be invaluable.
Phillip Eaglesham had to wait until day 6 of the Games to make his debut for Ireland in the 10m rifle prone. While the Dungannon man failed to progress to the finals, Rio 2016 was only the beginning of his Paralympic journey.
Ballymena teenager Katie Morrow, who was the youngest of the NI athletes to compete in the Games, made her presence felt on court when she pulled on the number 11 jersey for GB in wheelchair basketball. Named as GB’s lead scorer in her debut match against Argentina, Katie and her team mates went on to secure a top 4 place, 3 better than their London 2012 result.
However, the golden girl of the Games was undoubtedly swimming sensation Bethany Firth. The Seaforde athlete, who was earmarked for success, surpassed all expectations securing not only 3 gold medals and 1 silver but clocking up 2 world records and a Paralympic record.
Kevin O’Neill, CEO of Disability Sport NI, said,
“Our athletes deserve all the credit for all the hard work and dedication that has led to these amazing results. Disability Sport NI is proud to be able to offer all the help we can – however this is only possible due to the funding we receive. The £1m support over the next four years, recently announced by the Department for Communities, will ensure we can continue to assist development of local elite athletes, as well as encourage participation in sport amongst everyone with disabilities. We really hope to be able to carry on our work beyond that period as well.”