Two para-swimmers are the first Irish athletes to be indirectly affected by the coronavirus after the cancellation of a competition they were due to attend in northern Italy this week.
The second leg of the World Para-Swimming World Series, due to take place in Lignano from this Thursday to Sunday, has been called off due to fears about the virus with 230 cases already detected in Italy.
“These are two of our younger, development athletes and it’s a big disappointment for them because they were due to get their international classification at it,” said Paralympics Ireland CEO Miriam Malone.
“Classification slots are not easy to secure and have to be organised well in advance but we will be working hard with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to secure an alternative opportunity for them.”
Para-athletes compete in different classes according to the degree to which their physical impairment affects their performance and these classifications are only allocated by independent international judges.
Swimming has traditionally been one of Ireland’s most successful Paralympic sports and one of Ireland’s best medal hopes for the Tokyo Paralympics is Dublin swimmer Ellen Keane.
She won a bronze medal in SB8 breaststroke in Rio 2016 and repeated that at the World Championships last September where Nicole Turner, from Laois, also won a bronze medal in the S6 50m butterfly.
Paralympics Ireland held an event on Tuesday to mark the six-month countdown to the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo (August 25 to September 6).
The first tranche of their team will depart to their holding camp in Japan on August 10 and Malone said they are already closely monitoring developments around the coronavirus.
“There are a lot of qualification competitions coming up in the next number of months so we’ll be seeking advice constantly about travelling,” she said.
“But we have excellent support. Apart from briefings from our own chief medical officer we’ll be getting updates and support on this from Sport Ireland and the Institute Sport, as well as advice from the IPC. We’ll be constantly liaising with them.”
There were similar health scares with the Zika virus before the Rio Olympics and Paralympics which went ahead with no major problems.
Among Ireland’s Paralympic hopefuls are wheelchair racer Patrick Monahan who was 16th in the marathon in Rio 2016 and Galway cyclist Ronan Grimes, a relative newcomer who won bronze in the C4 individual pursuit at the World Track Championships earlier this month. Monahan is concentrating solely on the road for Tokyo and confirmed yesterday that he will do three marathons in April, starting with Manchester followed by back-to-back big city marathons in Boston and London within one week.
Grimes, who has a Phd in pharmaceutical studies, is hoping to make his Paralympic debut in Tokyo and said: “Ever since I first sat in the saddle of my bike I have dreamt about qualifying and representing my country and I feel there is more to come from me after winning bronze at the World Track Championships.”