Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

As our Paralympians strike gold, the heroine of Munich Mary Peters is honoured

Siceryka McMahon and Katie Kirk

Sporting heroes past and present were the toast of Northern Ireland after an Olympic weekend to live long in the memory.

Dame Mary Peters was the star for a day of events in celebration of the 40th anniversary of her gold medal at the Munich Olympics. It was the icing on the cake of an incredible weekend for Northern Ireland sport, after our inspiring Paralympians won three gold medals and smashed two world records.

A host of Olympic legends flew in to mark Dame Mary’s 1972 pentathlon triumph, including Sir Steve Redgrave, Dame Kelly Holmes and Daley Thompson.

A plane named for her was unveiled at George Best Belfast City Airport and later a glittering gala evening in her honour was held at Belfast’s Grand Opera House.

Musicians Van Morrison, Phil Coulter and Brian Kennedy were also there.

Dame Mary — a patron of Friends of the Grand Opera House — said she was humbled by the turnout.

“What better way for me to celebrate and remember all the good times over many, many years than to spend it enjoying the craic with friends and the Northern Ireland public, who have supported me over all these years,” she said.

Our current flock of sporting aces picked up the baton in recent days to ensure their names are also written into the history books.

With Northern Ireland’s record-breaking medal haul from the London Olympics and golfer Rory McIlroy’s second Major win, the taste of success is one which we are becoming accustomed too.

Not to be outshone by their Olympic counterparts — who returned home from the London Games with an unprecedented five medals — Northern Ireland’s Paralympians have made it a weekend to remember.

Remarkably, the Paralympians have exceeded our London medal haul with three golds already in the bag for athletes Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop.

Their record-breaking performances on Saturday were preceded by swimmer Bethany Firth’s golden victory on Friday evening.

Delighted Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin led praise for the trio.

“September 1 certainly lived up to its billing as a super Saturday,” she said.

“Jason Smyth's 100m final was stunning as he smashed his own world record for the second time in 24 hours with a time of 10.46. Incredible!

“His gold is truly deserved.

“This was followed by another golden moment as Michael McKillop resolutely defended his six-year unbeaten record at Paralympic level in the 800m T37 and also beat the world record.

“In less than 48 hours, our golden Paralympians, Bethany, Michael and Jason have proved they are the best — three golds is an astounding achievement.

“Once again I would like to congratulate all of the Paralympians, both from Ireland and across the globe, taking part.

“As I have said before, it takes hard work and dedication to reach the Paralympic finals, we are all proud of you.”