The Irish Special Olympics team departed for Los Angeles yesterday on a quest for glory at the World Summer Games, which get under way on Saturday.
The 88 Irish athletes who left for the US are among 7,000 competitors at this year’s Games, and they were accompanied by a 40-strong coaching and management team, 155 volunteers, and more than 300 family members.
The Games will run from July 25, when events get under way with a spectacular Opening Ceremony, until Sunday, August 2.
According to the chief executive of Special Olympics Ireland, Matt English, the event marks the culmination of four years of training and strenuous effort for all the competitors taking part.
“Each of these athletes has shown great motivation, discipline, and tremendous skill in getting this far and it is worthy of real celebration,” he said.
“They are all winners and it is a truly remarkable achievement for all our athletes, their coaches, their families, and Special Olympics volunteers.”
The Games will be the single biggest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games, at which John Treacy, the current chief executive of the Irish Sports Council, won a silver medal in the marathon.
The Irish team will stay in the city of Downey in southeast Los Angeles County as part of the Host Town programme, ahead of Saturday’s Opening ceremony.
Team Ireland will be led out by Mr Treacy, True Detective star Colin Farrell, and model and writer Claudine Keane, who is the wife of LA Galaxy football player Robbie Keane.
Team Ireland athletes will compete in 12 sports: Aquatics, athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, equestrian, soccer (5- and 11-a-side), golf, gymnastics, kayaking, and table tennis.
They received a rousing send-off at Dublin Airport yesterday while Irish rugby captain Jamie Heaslip was among those tweeting good luck messages to the athletes as they set off.
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