As the first day of competition got under way at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, Team Ireland got off to a winning start, securing two gold medals and a bronze in bocce and swimming.
Two Ulster athletes were among the winners of the day, bringing home a gold and bronze medal for the team.
Co. Tyrone athlete Richard Currie (23) from Dungannon was among the winning bocce team who clinched the first gold medals for Team Ireland.
Richard was joined by team mates Caroline Torpey (54) from Annacotty, Co. Limerick; Matthew Brennan (35), from Ardrahan, Co. Galway and Ciara Joyce (33) from Leixlip, Co. Kildare.
Also making waves for Team Ireland was Co. Down swimmer, Emma Carlisle (23) from Ballygowan, who not only bagged a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke, but also achieved an incredible personal best, shaving 12 seconds off her time.
Rounding off the day with a final gold medal were the swimmers, with an excellent performance in the 25m freestyle relay from athletes Damien Breslin (23) from Birr, Co. Offaly; Emma Barrett (21) from Ennis, Co. Clare; Chelsea Phillips (26) from Castlerea, Co. Roscommon and Edel Armstrong (23) from Navan Road, Dublin 7.
Shaun Cassidy, Regional Director, Special Olympics Ulster, said: “It is wonderful to see such great results from all of Team Ireland, but especially Ulster athletes Richard Currie and Emma Carlisle, who have earned their place on the podium during the first day of competition.
“We are so proud to cheer on all of our athletes as they compete in the sport that they love, earn personal bests and enjoy the experience of a lifetime in Abu Dhabi.”
They are all champions in our eyes.”
This is a huge year for Special Olympics Ireland and the 91 athletes – including 21 Ulster athletes - who have travelled to Abu Dhabi to compete as part of Team Ireland, with athletes having been selected after four years of training competition. Supported by a volunteer management team of 39, Team Ireland join 7,000 Special Olympics athletes from 170 countries.
The Games officially got under way at a spectacular Opening Ceremony at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium, the largest stadium in the United Arab Emirates.
Team Ireland were walked out by Irish representatives including Brendan Whelan, Chairman of Special Olympics Ireland and Shane Ross, Minister of Transport, Tourism and Sport, during the celebratory parade which featured a number of international celebrities including singer and Special Olympics global ambassador, Nicole Scherzinger.
The World Summer Games runs until March 21. Team Ireland are competing in 12 Olympic-style sports, representing 24 counties across Ireland.
Commenting on Team Ireland’s first day at Abu Dhabi 2019, Matt English, CEO Special Olympics Ireland said: “Team Ireland is off to a fantastic start at the World Games and our athletes are already blazing a trail with two gold medals and a bronze medal on their first day of competition. We are delighted to see our athletes getting the opportunity to compete in their chosen sport on a world stage. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we are proud of the hard work and determination it has taken to get to this point.
“With such a great start, we are very hopeful for a successful Games and wish all of our athletes luck as they continue through the coming days of competition.”