Paralympic team return with Beijing in mind

THE Irish Paralympic squad returned home from Athens yesterday to a rousing reception at Dublin Airport, even if the country missed out on winning a gold medal for the first time since 1964.

Just like their Olympic counterparts, the Paralympic movement has faced questions on a medal haul that was considerably lower than the nine brought back from Sydney four years ago - five of which were gold.

However, the Irish team, although slightly larger than its predecessor in 2000, contained fewer individual athletes, which reduced our medal chances at an event where the all-round standard is rising.

Neither should it be forgotten that, not only did four athletes get medals, but the team returned home with a world record-holder in Lisa Callaghan in the F37 javelin, as well as six more athletes with new personal bests.

“It was a very, very successful games even though the medal haul was smaller than Sydney,” said Ann Ebbs, General Secretary of the Irish Paralympic Council, yesterday.

“The performances were just as great. There were a lot of people who achieved personal bests and you can’t expect any more than that. Some people were disappointed with their performances but they shouldn’t be. Everyone performed to the maximum.

Ebbs also predicted that the 2008 Games in Beijing would be even more fiercely contested with nations like China - who finished top of the medal table in Athens - making huge strides in the Paralympic movement.

“The standard in all the sports is increasing every year,” said Ebbs.

“We know exactly what we have to do because the Chinese were out in force and they’ll be an even bigger force. There’s a lot of work to be done and we need support. The work starts tomorrow for Beijing. There’s no rest for the wicked, although the athletes will probably take time off and we’ll have new people coming up as well.”

The Paralympics have come to an end for another four years but there is more to the movement than a two-week window every four years.

“The Paralympics is getting bigger and bigger every year. The focus is massive for the Paralympics but you have the World and European championships as well, which kind of go unnoticed,” said S8 100m backstroke silver medallist David Malone yesterday.

“The reaction to the Paralympics has been fantastic but it would be great if it could carry on for the next four years. We train exactly the same as our able-bodied counterparts so it would be nice to get a little more recognition for what you do on a regular basis.”

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