Villagers in Portaferry say they’re proud of local cyclist James Brown even though he narrowly missed out on becoming Northern Ireland's first Paralympics medal winner yesterday.
The visually-impaired cyclist and his sighted tandem partner Damien Shaw were pipped by a Spanish pair in the bronze medal race by just over two seconds, finishing fourth in the 4K pursuit.
Brown (47) is something of a Paralympian legend. He won two athletics gold medals for Britain at the 1984 Paralympics before making a comeback as a cyclist for Team Ireland at these games.
Most of his immediate family are in London and were cheering him around the course yesterday.
Many more people were watching at home on the Ards Peninsula, but the race for a medal was to end in disappointment.
Ards Alliance councillor Kieran McCarthy said it was heartbreaking that he’d been pipped at the post, but said the borough was still very proud of him and would continue to give him 100% support.
Brown will be in action in three more cycling events which will include trips to Brands Hatch for the road race and road time trial.
His family said the pursuit was his weakest event and they hope he can do better in the road races.
Mr McCarthy said: “It’s extremely disappointing. We were all shouting for him, hoping he’d make his mark on the first day of competition. It’s hard to believe he was beaten by just two seconds.”
The councillor said people were now hoping he would do better in his more favoured events.
“The whole peninsula is behind him and we’ll support him from here on in. We hope he’ll soon be picking up a bronze, silver and even a gold and we’ll look forward to him coming back home to the borough with some hardware to show off.”
Peninsula Ulster Unionist councillor Angus Carson agreed.
He said it was great the local man was competing: “All our good wishes go with him and we hope he does very well — it’s great to see. We’ll be watching on just as we did with our Olympians and supporting him all the way.”
Newtownards archer Sharon Vennard was also in action in the Individual Recurve qualification session yesterday.
Sharon, who suffers from osteoarthritis, finished a creditable sixth with 549 points, just 32 adrift of leader Fangxia Gao of China.
Armagh-based equestrian hopeful Eilish Byrne was seventh after competing in the opening Team Test event on Thursday.
Byrne (48) finished with a 67.714 percentage in the opening dressage event which left her more than 8% behind Team GB leader Natasha Baker.
The Dundalk woman, who has spina bifida, will be in action again on her horse Youri in the individual competitions tomorrow and Monday.
“Youri was a little tense and I struggled to keep him relaxed. Our score was a little lower than usual,” she said.
Northern Ireland’s other athletes, runners Michael McKillop, Jason Smyth and Sally Brown and swimmers Bethany Firth and Laurence McGivern will all be in action today.
‘Just reading what he’s done is tiring... He’s one heck of a bloke’
By Ivan Little
Down Portaferry way they reckon miracle man James Brown is more of a power-olympian than a Paralympian, a superfit 47-year-old athlete who has shrugged off his visual impairment to challenge for glory in not one but three very different sports over an astonishing 30-year career.
He may have narrowly missed out on bronze in the 4k tandem cycling pursuit at the Velodrome in London yesterday but he is still in contention for more medals in the Brand’s Hatch road races to add to the double gold he won in the New York Paralympics in 1984 on the athletics track.
The versatile former restaurant owner and software developer ran away with the 1500m and 800m partially sighted categories, setting a new world record in the latter event in the process.
James was competing for Britain back then. Yesterday he was part of the 49-strong Irish Paralympic Squad.
Indeed Damien Shaw, the able-bodied athlete from Mullingar who rides pilot for James on their tandem was born in the very week that his partner lifted his two gold medals in America 28 years ago.
The pair have struck up an impressive partnership. They won silver at the 4K tandem pursuit at the World Track Championships in LA earlier this year.
James’s late mother Jess encouraged him to take up cycling and taught him how to ride a bike when he was five.
“My mum never put any limits on me as a child and therefore I don’t place any limits on myself now,” said James.
His brother Will said: “That was the start of things for him.
“Some parents tend to be overprotective of children with disabilities but our mother was keen for James to be outgoing.”
Aged six, James went to the Jordanstown school for the visually impaired near Carrickfergus and seven years later he moved to England to a similar college in Worcester where his sporting prowess was nurtured.
He has taken part in four Paralympics, seven World Championships and two European championships
“Just reading what he’s done with his life is tiring enough,” says a friend. “He is one heck of a bloke who’s never let anything get him down or get in his road.”
In his late 30s James, who now lives in Stonehouse in Gloucestershire, took a break from sport. But just a few years ago he returned to cycling.
Will said: “He started doing mountain biking with his son Peter as his guide and he found that he still had the legs to take on the big climbs.
“He dusted down a tandem which was in the attic and at the start of 2011 he put an advertisement in a bulletin board of one of his local cycling clubs for someone to ride in front of him and do a bit of racing.”
Happily Con Collis responded
and the two of them took part in a number of competitions with Con telling him about the terrain.
With more and more successes he pondered a comeback to the Paralympics and contacted Irish officials who told him they would assess him if he funded his way to a training camp in Portugal.
“He obviously impressed them and produced good enough times to be accepted onto the Irish team,” said Will.
“So from there it has just been a rollercoaster for Damien and him with one event after another. The silver medal in LA was their qualification for the Paralympics.
“With James it has always been about attitude. He loves to say that the mind is the athlete and he has never lost that sense of determination.”
Returning to sport after an eight-year break has, not surprisingly, been taxing for James who admits he’d got out of shape as he spent time with wife Mel and children Peter and Alice.
Before moving back to Britain, James had been based in Portaferry where he and Will set up the Narrows restaurant business in 1996 and ran it for about 10 years.