The 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing proved a success for the Irish athletes, bringing home an excellent three gold medals, writes Fearghal Kerin.
The Paralympic Games, an Olympics style event for athletes with disabilities was held in Beijing this month. Held in the immediate aftermath of Olympic fever in the Chinese capital, this was an opportunity for 4,000 Paralympians to sample the authentic experience of the largest athletics gathering on the planet.
For Ireland, on the back of a three-medal haul at the Olympics themselves, the 2008 Paralympics will also go down in the annals as a success. Three gold medals (two by Jason Smith, who emulated Usain Bolt by shattering the World Record in the 100m and 200m sprint), a silver and a bronze places Ireland a creditable 36th on the medal table.
Ireland has always shown a support of the Paralympics since their inception with the Rome games in 1960. Similar to weightlifting and boxing in the traditional Games, where entrants are classified by weight or style, Paralympians are classified by their level of function.
By reaping the gold in both the 100m and 200m, comparisons were always inevitable with the current golden boy of athletics, Usain Bolt
This caused consternation during this year’s Games with the stripping of medals from athletes whose disability was considered insufficient to merit entry in their class.
Irish soccer star, Derek Malone was among those deemed unable to participate. Malone had previously been victorious in the T38 classification 800m in Athens four years ago, but was deemed to be above the minimum level of impairment required. Malone, 28, has Cerebral Palsy which, though an incurable condition, can be managed to have the minimal impact on the person.
As a result of his hard work and training, the effects of the disease have not been as stark and as a result, much to the chagrin of the Paralympic Council of Ireland, Malone was ruled ineligible to compete. The fallout from this was an aspect that spoiled the Games for many of the Irish based in the Olympic village, and has left the winger understandably distraught.
Not all Irish athletes had such unfortunate tales upon their return to Dublin airport last Friday, most notably Derry sprinter Jason Smith. By reaping the gold in both the 100m and 200m, comparisons were always inevitable with the current golden boy of athletics, Usain Bolt.
In addition to breaking the World Record in the 100m final, Smith went on to break the record in the semi-final of the 200m and then smash his own record in the final to complete a historic double. For anyone to complete such a double is remarkable, but as a European the achievement is all the more notable and many would argue that Smith did not receive the adulation that he deserved for his achievements.
Smith’s medals were joined by Gay Shelly who won Ireland’s sole bronze. Shelly’s sport, Boccia, is rare in that it is one of just three sports contested at the Patalympics that do not feature in the Olympics themselves.
Similar to Boules, the sport involves players throwing a ball towards a jack and is usually played by athletes with motor dysfunction, such as Cerebral Palsy sufferers.
Despite a disappointing defeat in the semi-final, Shelly was able to regroup with a dominating victory over home town favourite Yi Wang, who had previously defeated another Irish contender, Páraic Moran, making the victory all the sweeter.
Further success was attained by 14-year-old Darragh McDonald from Gorey. The teenager, a double-amputee, won a silver medal in the 400 metres Freestyle S6 category and was comfortably Ireland’s youngest medal winner.
Ireland’s final medal was as sensational as they come with Ballymena man Micheal McKillop winning gold in the 800m (T37 class). That he won was not the sensation, but rather that he managed to shave a massive 2.74 seconds off the existing world record that he himself set at the 2006 World Championships.
From a UCD point of view, there was reason to be proud of the achievement of one of our own. David Peelo, a member of the Registry Staff, was the pilot rider along with Michael Delaney in the Sprint race as part of the cycling event hosted in the Loashan Velodrome. Delaney has peripheral vision while UCD-man Peelo is the sighted member of the cycling duo.
Cycling in tandem is more difficult than it would initially appear, it being key to communicate effectively and synchronise pedalling effectively vital to success. The Peelo-Delaney partnership clearly succeeded in this as their reward for their months of training was the setting of a new Irish record, no mean feat.
Like Smith, McKillop, McDonald, Shelly and all of the other Irish Paralympians across all disciplines, Peelo and Delaney’s achievements were effective in raising the profile of the Paralympic Games with preparations already underway for the 14th Games in London in four years time.