Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland athletes must grab their Games chance: Dame Mary Peters

By Graham Luney

Dame Mary Peters has urged Northern Ireland's Gold Coast competitors to seize their golden chance to impress at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

The 13-strong track and field contingent are raring to go after the 2018 Games officially kicked off on the Gold Coast yesterday.

Dame Mary won three golds and a silver during an extraordinary career that also brought an Olympic pentathlon title.

"I just say, 'enjoy yourselves. You've worked hard," said Dame Mary who, along with Mike Bull, leads the all-time historical standings with four Games medals apiece.

"You're ready to go now. Just bring out the best you can in your performance. You can't do any more at this stage.

"But it's a hard Games because so many countries take part. You've got 400 on the England team. You've got Canada, Jamaica, Australia. That shows what you're up against.

"But I always loved the Commonwealth Games because they're the Friendly Games and we can all socialise together. Plus it's a really good stepping-stone toward European and World championships and the Olympic Games."

The Northern Ireland netball team get their Games campaign under way today while Bangor gymnast Rhys McClenaghan is also in action.

Northern Ireland's athletics team will be captained by Ciara Mageean, who produced the run of her life to take an historic 1500m bronze at the Europeans in Amsterdam two years ago.

And with a shot in the 800m as well in Australia, Dame Mary believes the 26-year-old from County Down could be the one to watch.

"I'd like Ciara to do well," she said.

"I've had a little chat with her about Ann Packer who had only run three 800m before the Tokyo Olympics and then won Olympic gold.

"Sometimes you can be inspired by the moment. And I hope Ciara will come good because I've always had faith in her ability.

"I remember Philip Beattie wasn't expected to win (the 400m hurdles) in 1986.

"There can be a few surprises along the way. But I just hope they enjoy the experience and if they do any personal bests, that's all you can ask."

The youngest member of the squad, 17-year-old Dundalk-based schoolgirl Kate O'Connor, will line up in the heptathlon less than a year after coming eighth at the European Under-20 Championships.

Dame Mary added: "I'm always keen to see young people like Kate do multi-events. I went to my first Commonwealth Games in 1958 as a shot putter and high jumper as well as being a member of the relay team.

"I was inspired by the experience. But because they didn't have the pentathlon in the Games until 1970, I had to wait to win the first gold.

"So I hope she enjoys the Games. If she can stay clear of injury, she can become a better athlete from this."

A tropical rainstorm in the so-called 'Sunshine State' served as a suitably eccentric beginning to an opening ceremony in which the Prince of Wales declared the Games open.

Athletes from the major nations and tiny Pacific atolls marched shoulder to soggy shoulder during a vibrant ceremony which celebrated both the region's indigenous origins and its modern surfing culture.

"Even though we are half a world away, we are all connected," said the Prince of Wales, after the final leg of the Queen's Baton Relay was completed by Australian hurdling star Sally Pearson in the Cararra Stadium.

A matter of hours earlier, protesters from the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance group had held up the baton relay for 50 minutes as it neared its final destination.

Reeling from its ball-tampering scandal in cricket, hosts Australia will seek to use the Games to restore some much-needed sporting dignity and reclaim top spot in the medals table from England, who topped the list in Glasgow for the first time since 1986.

Belfast Telegraph

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