The Irish team for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing was officially announced by Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen in Dublin today.
Forty five elite athletes across nine sports will represent Ireland at the Beijing Games which get underway on September 6, and run for twelve days. The official team kit, sponsored by O’Neills was also unveiled.
Making the announcement Minister Cullen said: "I would like to congratulate the forty five athletes on their selection for the Games. Very few of us get the opportunity to represent our country on the International stage; it’s a tremendous honour that the athletes, their families and friends should be very proud of. I have no doubt that they will be great ambassadors for our country."
The Irish team comprises 10 track and field athletes, four cyclists (with two sighted pilot riders), one Archer, four Boccia players (a form of bowls for athletes with severe physical disabilities), a team of twelve footballers, six swimmers, five sailors, two Table Tennis players, and one Dressage rider.
The team for the games includes three of Ireland’s medalists from the Athens Games; field athlete John McCarthy who won silver in the Greek capital, swimmer Dave Malone who claimed silver at the last games and Derek Malone who claimed bronze on the track.
Malone (Derek) has since retired from Athletics and will line out for the football team in Beijing.
Double world champion and world record holder in 100m and 200m, Jason Smyth from Derry is also named in the team.
The team also boasts another world champion and world record holder in the 800m; teenager Michael McKillop. The 7-a-side football team, who recently played an exhibition game in Austria before the final Euro 2008 quarter final occupies 12 of the 45 places on the team. Several of the 45 strong team are competing in their first Games.
The team at 45 in number is the biggest Irish team since the Atlanta Games in 1996. The increase in team size represents a significant achievement by the Paralympic Council of Ireland (PCI). It is in contrast to that of other western nations who are facing reductions in team size as a result of the escalating number of nations competing at the Games, leaving qualification places at a premium.
Speaking at the event Chef de Mission Jimmy Byrne said: “At a time when qualification is harder than ever before and most other western nations are seeing their teams diminish in size to have our biggest team since Atlanta is incredible. Huge credit is due to the PCI for their team building strategy.”
Ossie Kilkenny, Chairperson of the Irish Sports Council who spoke at the event added: “When this Irish team marches into the Olympic Stadium on September 6th it will mark the final step on a long road, the culmination of years of effort, sacrifice, training and preparation. Huge credit must go to the coaches, support staff, many volunteers and the Paralympic Council of Ireland for bringing the team to this point.”
The Paralympic team is fully integrated into the Irish Sports Council’s elite support systems. Over €4.28 million has been invested in Paralympic sport over this Paralympic cycle (2005 – 2008) through direct support to athletes under the International Carding Scheme, through core support and the performance planning programme which funds team training and competition, including a whole team preparatory familiarisation camp last year in Beijing.
Tony Guest, President of the Paralympic Council of Ireland said: “Without the unwavering support from the Minister and his Department, John Treacy and his team at the Irish Sports Council, and all the other agencies involved this would not have been possible. We can say with certainty that thanks to their investment this is the best prepared Irish team ever going to a Paralympic Games.”
The kit sponsorship deal with O’Neills provides significant in-kind support to the Irish team and has taken care of what is ordinarily a big financial and logistical burden for the Paralympic Council of Ireland. Tony Towell, Managing Director of O’Neills said: “As an Irish company we are a natural fit for the Irish team, and we are delighted to be on board to support these outstanding Irish athletes for Beijing, and beyond to London 2012.”
Six commercial organisations; Kelloggs, An Post, G & T Crampton Ltd., Powerade, Speedo Ireland, Argos, and the Dept. of Health and Exercise Science at Waterford Institute of Technology are demonstrating their support for the Irish team for the 2008 Paralympic Games through a combination of financial backing and appropriate product supply to the team.
The Irish team will come together for their final whole team training camp at the University of Limerick from August 7th – 10th, before departing for their holding camp in Beijing on August 24th. The media guide for the Irish team will be published at the team’s media day on August 9th at the Limerick training camp. The Paralympic Council of Ireland’s new website is also being launched today www.pcireland.ie