Saturday, August 30, 2008
Paralympics: Dockery to Carry Flag
Just when you thought it was safe to forget the Olympics and Beijing, along comes the Paralympics - and the best prepared Irish team ever should give this nation plenty to be proud of over the next fortnight.
Making the team, which had a strict quota of places on offer, has taken a huge effort by all 45 members of the Irish teams. To be selected they have had to prove that they are world class and this they did.
Sprinter Jason Smith is second only to Paul Hession on the 100m rankings and third behind Hession and Brizzell for 200m. He burst on to the scene two years ago when he set world records on this way to winning both 100m and 200m at the World Paralympics Games in Essen, Germany.
Since then, he has got even faster and after running 10.53 for 100m and 21.47 for 200m this year, he is so fast that spectators find it hard to believe that he is partially sighted. "No I certainly can't drive," he tells us. "I see different colours and blurs rather than faces or bodies, but on the track I have no problems really because I can see the lines."
For his first Paralympics, training with his full-time coach Stephen Maguire has gone well. "I had a nerve problem at the top of my hamstring earlier on, but that's gone. I'm a lot stronger this year and a lot quicker when I'm racing."
Despite being tipped to take two medals, the mantle of favourite isn't bothering him. "I don't mind the pressure - I just run!"
Another young athlete tipped for gold is 18-year-old Michael McKillop from Glengormley, who won the 800m at the World Paralympic Championships in Assen at the age of only 16, setting a new world record on the way.
One of the best known names on the athletics team of just ten is Patrice Dockery, of Clonliffe Harriers, who will carry the flag for Ireland at Saturday's opening ceremony in the Bird's Nest Stadium.
Beijing will be a sixth Paralympics for the 37-year-old Dubliner. Her best performance came at the Sydney Games of 2000 when she finished sixth in the 5000m. In Athens four years ago, she was involved in a spectacular crash that received lots of publicity.
For Beijing she decided to go back to her sprinting roots and has qualified for the 100m, 200m and 400m in the T53 class. "I've been reclassified from T54 as at previous Games, which means I have a better chance of reaching a final at least. But it won't be easy."