Ireland’s John Twomey determined to leave lasting legacy for paralympic sailors

Ireland’s flag-bearer for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games starts his final regatta today on Guanabara Bay to national and international acclaim marking his 11th appearance.

Nevertheless, Kinsale’s John Twomey has committed himself to acting as mentor and coach for the next generation of Irish paralympic sailors.

Sailing has been controversially dropped from the slate for the Tokyo 2020 games when Twomey will be 65, making a subsequent appearance if and when the sport is reinstated unlikely.

“This is definitely my last one. It’s time to hand over to a young brigade. It’s been a great Paralympic career, you know, probably a bit too long,” he said in Rio yesterday. “I’ve enjoyed it and the health and fitness Paralympic sport brings to me is enormous.”

Before then, he’ll start his final competition today with crewmates Austin O’Carroll and Ian Costelloe.

“It would be nice to mentor and it would be nice to have a new crop of Irish sailors at a Paralympic level. I will make my services available to help with that. It’s important that athletes that have had a good career in Paralympics give something back when they retire from active competition themselves.”

Following a cycling accident at the age of 14, Twomey was confined to a wheelchair but went on to compete Toronto in 1976 in the discus event there and continued right up to 1996 in Atlanta when he retired from athletics.

“I was always in the top four or five in the world. I was third in 1984 and I won gold in 1988 so I had a really good athletics career,” he said.

Sailing was introduced for Sydney 2000 so he naturally drifted to another sport that he was passionate for.

Despite his commitment, the absence of paralympic sailing’s official recognition by inclusion in the next games is a setback albeit one that is being actively tackled by World Sailing, formerly the International Sailing Federation.

The world governing body absorbed the International Disabled Sailing Federation two years ago just as it was controversially dropped for Tokyo in a dispute over minimum participation by nation at international events.

As President of the IFDS during the crisis, Twomey was adamant that the figures had been incorrectly analysed by the International Paralympic Committee.

The forthcoming drive by World Sailing to improve participation by disabled sailors will be good news as Twomey has been the most prominent sailor at both this level as well as regular sailing in which he competes with notable success at national level.

It may be his swansong Paralympics, but Twomey is far from hanging-up his seaboots just yet.

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