Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 29 January 2015

Paralympics: Northern Ireland athletes promise to bring home gold

Ireland's Cathal Miller leads his team into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 29, 2012. See PA story PARALYMPICS Opening Ceremony. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Northern Ireland athletes are set for a record haul of four gold medals as the Paralympics got underway today.

Who says so? The athletes themselves, with Co Derry sprinter Jason Smyth and middle distance ace Michael McKillop, from Newtownabbey, both targeting double gold in London.

That alone would be one more than our gold medal total from the Beijing Games four years ago.

Ulster’s six other competitors also have high hopes of medals.

“I will be going all out to defend my titles and bring home two golds,” said Smyth.

Like Smyth and McKillop, Sally Brown, Bethany Firth, Laurence McGivern, Eilish Byrne, Sharon Vennard and James Brown are set to shine in London and could get among the medals.

Northern Ireland competitors were hugely successful at the London Olympics earlier this month with rowers Richard and Peter Chambers taking silver, Alan Campbell bronze and boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan collecting bronze medals as well.

But our Paralympians could put that impressive tally in the shade.

Smyth won gold in the 100m and 200m in Beijing — just like Usain Bolt, who repeated the feat earlier this month in London — and is confident of coming out on top yet again.

“I’m going in as champion so my aim is to defend my titles — that is my mindset,” said the Eglinton sprinter.

“I have improved a lot since Beijing four years ago so I have to be looking to win.”

Smyth put his great pal McKillop in the shade in Beijing — the Newtownabbey runner had to settle for one gold, in the 800m.

But that could be about to change with the 1500m added to the Paralympic schedule since Beijing — an event in which McKillop is world champion and world record holder.

“In 2008 Jason came back with two gold medals and two world records. I came back with one gold and one world record,” said McKillop.

“Funnily enough, I thought it was a bit annoying because somebody was getting a bit more of the spotlight — I didn't have the chance to run the 1500m.

“Come London I am going to try to make it my time to shine,” he added.

Three Northern Ireland competitors are in action today — cyclist Brown, archer Vennard and Byrne in the team equestrian.

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