Ulster stars celebrate massive medal haul in Special Olympics
After five days of competition at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, local Team Ireland athletes have made a big impression, contributing to a massive haul of over 60 medals secured by the Irish squad with two days still to go.
The 91-strong Team Ireland squad - including 21 from across Ulster - are blazing a trail at the Games in a variety of sports, with excellent performances in athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics, kayaking, swimming and table tennis.
Yesterday, Team Ireland's ladies' basketball team became the latest to taste success with gold in a stunning 27-15 win over Bharat. The squad has a strong Ulster contingent, Faye Boyd (29), Grace Hamilton (27), Sara Shivas (23) and Sarah Thorne (24) from Antrim, Gemma O'Keefe (45) and Amy Watters (26) from Bangor and Siobhan Dunne (27) from Strabane.
Richard Currie (23) from Dungannon clinched some of Team Ireland's first medals with two golds in the single and team bocce events.
His performance was one in a number of triumphs for Tyrone athletes, with Shannon Nixon (21) bagging a bronze medal in the 25m run and Omagh's Lee Mitchell (21) winning two golds in equestrian events.
Making a big impression in gymnastics, Donegal gymnast Patrick Quinlivan (36) swept the board, receiving seven medals on St Patrick's Day, including a gold for All-Round Athlete. The Letterkenny ace also won gold in the pommel horse and five silvers in floor exercise, vaulting, rings, parallel bars and horizontal bars.
There was further success for local equestrian athlete Megan McElherron (18) from Newry, who put in an impressive performance to scoop a gold and silver medal in English Equitation and Working Trails.
Meanwhile, fellow Newry athlete Fergal Gregory (19) won bronze in the 500m kayak event, among six kayaking victors securing medals (one gold, two silver and three bronze) for Team Ireland on Monday.
Also taking to the water, Co Down athlete Conor McClorey (22) secured a podium finish in open water swimming for Team Ireland's first ever World Games outing in the sport.
The Newry ace, who was competing in his first ever international Games, scooped a bronze in the 1,600m open water swim.
In the pool, Ulster athletes had further success with Ballygowan athlete Emma Carlisle (23) winning bronze in the 100m backstroke.
In tenpin bowling, Gemma Steele (25) from Coleraine and team-mate Aine McDermott (24) from Athenry won gold in the doubles event on Monday.
Competition continues today, with Team Ireland on course for further success.
Badminton player Sarah Louise Rea from Lisburn is among those still in contention for gold. Having won all of her matches so far, she is in the best position to take the top podium spot. However, with one pool match to be played, results will not be confirmed until today.
Speaking yesterday, she said: "I'm having an amazing time. It's amazing, it's thrilling. I've been able to come here, play my best and not change for anyone else."
Siobhan and Martin Nixon, parents of athletics competitor Shannon (22) from Coalisland, have been overwhelmed by the support for Team Ireland in Abu Dhabi.
Speaking from the athletics stadium, Siobhan said: "Shannon is part of a squad at Special Olympics Ireland that she belongs to and she is having the time of her life in Dubai. It's not medals she'll look back on and remember but the memories.
"The confidence that she now has is unbelievable. When Shannon was born 22 years ago, we didn't know what the possibilities for her were, and to think she is now here competing at the World Games is amazing."
The Special Olympics World Summer Games run until tomorrow.
Team Ireland are competing in 12 Olympic-style sports, represented by athletes from 24 counties across the island of Ireland.