Belfast Telegraph

Special Olympics star Joyce bowled over by her amazing welcome home

By Patrice Dougan

Team Ireland athletes felt like they were still flying high as they stepped off the plane to a heroes' welcome as the country's most successful Olympics team ever.

As the Special Olympics athletes arrived home, weighed down by their mega haul of 107 medals, families and friends broke into rapturous applause for their outstanding performances.

The 126 members of Team Ireland and their 49 coaches touched down on the runway at Dublin airport yesterday afternoon, after a record-breaking run at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens.

They were greeted by tearful relatives and friends who hugged them and congratulated them on their achievements.

The team - which includes 19 athletes from Northern Ireland - recorded a number of personal best records at the games, and dozens of place ribbons in 12 different sports from athletics, swimming, basketball, bowling, equestrian, gymnastics, kayaking and table tennis.

Northern Ireland competitors brought home more than their fair share with a total of 41 medals - 15 gold, 15 silver and 11 bronze.

Among the medal winners was Team Ireland's youngest member, 12-year-old Fergal Gregory from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh.

His age was no barrier as he swam to gold success in the 25m butterfly. He was also part of the gold medal-winning bowling squad. Bowling team-mates Ciaran Mallon from Meigh, Co Armagh, and Joyce Haughian from Warrenpoint, Co Down, were also celebrating as they showed off their collection of four gold medals and two silver medals.

Joyce, who took gold in the bowling singles and silver in the doubles and team events, said: "I am absolutely delighted with my performance in Athens and so proud to bring home my medals.

"Competing in Athens was a dream come true for me and an experience I will never forget."

Arriving at the airport with one gold, one silver and three bronze medals, Belfast gymnast Una McGarry said the Greek Games were "an amazing experience".

"I am so thrilled with my performances and it's great to bring home so many medals to Northern Ireland," she said.

Matt English, CEO of Special Olympics Ireland, paid tribute to the athletes and their coaches.

"So much work goes into preparing a team for competition on the world sporting stage," he said.

"Team Ireland put a huge amount of effort into their training schedule in advance of these Games and they certainly reaped the rewards in Athens.

"So many of our athletes recorded personal best performances as well as medal wins and we are equally proud of all of our athletes regardless of whether they return home with medals or not.

"The overall results of the team are testament to the hard work and dedication of both the athletes and their coaches.

"I applaud each and every member of Team Ireland on their outstanding sporting achievements."

The Games were the biggest sporting event in the world this summer, with 7,500 athletes from 185 nations competing.

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