Ireland’s Paralympic team has been set a target of eight medals from this year’s Games in Brazil.
The Irish team claimed a haul twice that size four years ago in London but Paralympics Ireland chief executive Liam Harbison was keen to recalibrate expectations and explain the rationale behind the reduced number yesterday, after announcing OCS Ireland’s sponsorship of the team and its awards gala.
“The main factor that we are all judged on in performance sport is medals and we can be hypnotised by that,” said Harbison. “That’s why with the 16 we got in London, my concern is that is most people’s first engagement in Paralympic sport but we won four medals in Athens and no golds.
“Beijing we won five medals, three of them golds. Suddenly then we won 16 medals in London. We had 17 medal targets in London and you would normally convert 30-50%. We converted 14 of those 17 and then had three extra in equestrian so it was exceptional. Our target was five.”
Competition will be keener this time. There were 169 countries in London in 2012; 185 will take part in Brazil. Some of the bigger nations, such as Russia, are also taking an ever greater interest in a movement where medals and glory are on offer. Harbison expects an Irish team of roughly 49 athletes to travel but the time since London has seen a number of prime prospects dented or dashed, with runners Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth losing one of their two main events to reclassification.
That is two short-odd shots at golds gone. Reclassification has seen to Mark Rohan’s hopes of defending his pair of 2012 titles as well, with the Westmeath man retiring as a result, while Bethany Firth will be wearing UK attire when she looks to repeat her gold success.
That is five of the eight golds won in London that cannot be defended. Darragh McDonald, who took a silver in the pool at London’s Olympic Park, has retired, though Harbison was optimistic about the talent that has emerged since, with teenage Cork thrower Noelle Lenihan among the most exciting of the prospects.
It will cost Paralympics Ireland roughly €700,000 to pay for the Games. They are still awaiting word on the exact contribution they can expect from the public coffers, through Sport Ireland, while the location of the latest Games will serve as another obstacle.
Reports streaming out of Brazil are far from comforting with widespread cuts in operating costs expected for the Olympics, though Harbison is hopeful that the presence of Brazil’s Andrew Parsons on the organising committee will stave off further cost-cutting measures for the Paralympics.
A vice-president of the International Paralympic Committee, Parsons is making a run for the top job next year and a successful Games is in his interests, though there is little he can do about a strung-out spread of venues separated by the mountain range that sits in the middle of the city region.
A trip by a 40-member party to the pre-Games base in Uberlandia, 1,000km to the north-west, has already “unearthed a number of issues”, while safety is another concern.
“We will be saying to the athletes there will have to be restrictions on them, given they are the performers and the investment made in them. It’s village only, official transport only, and you will have to watch your back.”
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