The Paralympics begins with tonight’s opening ceremony, so here are some of Ireland’s top medal hopes...
1. Jason Smyth — Athletics T13 100m
Won a race in Rio last year that officially crowned him ‘the fastest Paralympian on the planet’ and also the second fastest Irishman in history.
The 29-year-old visually impaired sprinter from Derry won gold in the T13 100m and 200m at the Beijing and London Paralympics and is the world record holder (10.46/21.05) in both.
He had injury problems last year but still won gold at World Championships and won the Irish (able-bodied) 100m title this summer.
The T13 200m is no longer on the Paralympic programme so has one title to defend in Rio.
2. Eoghan Clifford — Cycling: C3 Road Race/ Time Trial and Indiv. Pursuit and Kilo on track
Ireland has a really strong cycling team for this Paralympics, led by Clifford, an engineering lecturer in NUIG who has a degenerative muscle disease. He’s a three-time world champion on the road and also a medallist on the track. Colin Lynch is another to watch, a world champion in 2011, and the women’s tandem of Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal are other serious medal contenders.
3. Ellen Keane — Swimming (SB8 100m breaststroke, S9 backstroke/butterfly/IM)
Already a two-time Paralympian at 21, the Dublin student is also a three-time world bronze medallist and is expected to do well in Rio.
However, the surprise package of the small (four) but strong Irish swim team could yet be Portarlington’s versatile Nicole Turner who reached six finals and won three medals (two silvers) in S6 swimming at this year’s European Championships. She turned 14 recently but is still the baby of Ireland’s 48-strong team in Rio.
4. John Twomey — Sailing: 3-person keelboat (Sonar)
The retired Cork accountant is not only Ireland’s flagbearer but setting an Irish Paralympic record by competing in his 11th consecutive Games. A promising cyclist who suffered severe spinal injuries in a bike race when he was 14, his Paralympic debut was in 1976 and he has previously won two discus medals (bronze in ’84, gold in ’88) before concentrating on sailing since 2000. He skippered Ireland’s Sonar team to 11th in London 2012. Killorglin’s Ian Costelloe remains from that crew and they’re now joined by Austin O’Carroll, uncle of Dublin footballer Rory.
5. Catherine Walsh/Fran Meehan — PT5 Triathlon
Like Twomey, this pair also had prior success in other disciplines. This is Dubliner Catherine’s seventh Paralympics and the visually impaired athlete won bronze in athletics (pentathlon) in Sydney 2000 and two medals (silver on track and bronze road race) in cycling in London 2012 with her tandem partner Fran, from Offaly. With triathlon making its debut in Rio they’ve switched codes and were sixth at the World Championships in July.
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