Special athletes keep ice cool as they ski to glory
Move over Paddy Barnes and Jason Smyth – Northern Ireland is celebrating some new world-class medal winners.
Three athletes from across the province are the pride of local sport after clinching an impressive haul of medals at the 10th Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea.
The trio are being praised after lifting one gold, two silver and two bronze medals for Team Ireland over the weekend.
On Saturday, talented Portadown teenager, Rosalind Connolly (17) won gold in the novice final of the alpine skiing Super G event in PyeongChang.
Meanwhile, Ryan Hill (34), from Richhill, Co Armagh, and Lucy Best (21), from Lisburn, competed in the intermediate final of the alpine skiing Super G event, scooping silver and bronze medals respectively.
Following Saturday's impressive medal haul, Ryan was back in action on Sunday and went on to win his second silver medal in the final of the intermediate Giant Slalom event, while Lucy took her second bronze in the intermediate Giant Slalom final.
The weekend medal wins bring Team Ireland's total medal tally to 10, ahead of the final day of competition on Tuesday.
Shaun Cassidy, regional director of Special Olympics Ulster, said he is thrilled that local athletes have secured wins on the world stage.
"The 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games are one of the highlights of the Special Olympics sporting calendar this year and it is an honour that three of our Ulster athletes have represented Ireland in this prestigious event," Mr Cassidy said.
Coach Jill Sloan, who put the athletes through their paces on the dry ski slopes in Craigavon, Co Armagh, as well as on real snow in Murau, Austria, said Rosalind, Ryan and Lucy's medal wins are testament to their "hard work, dedication and talents".
"I am very proud of what the three athletes have accomplished – competing for Team Ireland is an incredible honour for our Ulster athletes."
"It has given them a unique opportunity to embrace the Olympic ideal," Ms Sloan added.
Special Olympics Ulster is supported by Sport Northern Ireland. Its acting chief executive, Nick Harkness, also congratulated the medal winning athletes.
"The talents, skills and dedication of the athletes of the Special Olympics reminds us what the World Games are really about – all participants are winners in their fight for respect, inclusion and unity," he added.
The Special Olympians are following on from the medal success Team GB and Team Ireland enjoyed in London last summer.
Among the Olympians and Paralympians to bring medals back to Northern Ireland were boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan, runners Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop, swimmer Bethany Firth, rowers Richard and Peter Chambers and Alan Campbell, dressage rider Eilish Byrne and paracyclist James Brown.
- The first Special Olympic World Games took place in 1968 and since then have evolved into a world-class sporting event.
- Special Olympics Ulster was established in 1978. It offers training and competitive events in 14 sports: Alpine skiing, athletics, aquatics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics, kayaking, pitch & putt and table tennis.
- At the moment, 2,043 athletes at 98 clubs, led by 973 coaches, are supported by Sport NI and a network of 5,855 volunteers.
- For information visit: www.specialolympics.ie