Belfast Telegraph

Ireland stars fired up for Euro success

By Jonathan Bradley

The inaugural European Games begin in Azerbaijan today and Team Ireland athletes are already impressed by their new surroundings.

Over the next three and a half weeks, Baku will see over 6,000 athletes from the 50 National Olympic Committees of Europe descend on the city to compete in 20 different sports.

The arrival of the Games has brought with it state-of-the-art facilities such as the new National Stadium, which will feature the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the athletics events.

After the Games, the stadium will become home to the Azerbaijan national football team.

A National Gymnastics Arena, BMX Velopark, Baku Aquatics Centre and Baku Shooting Centre have also been built and will remain in use after the Games.

Six temporary venues - including a water polo arena, beach arena, basketball arena, mountain bike velodrome, triathlon arena and cycling venue - are also in place.

Elsewhere, Games facilities include 10 training and 32 non-competition venues, including a newly erected athletes village with 1,042 apartments, and the visiting competitors are clearly thrilled by the work that has been put in.

Aileen Reid, a former PE teacher and originally with the North West Triathlon Club in Londonderry, enters the Games as the top ranked European triathlete and "was all smiles and selfies" as she posted pictures of her first visit to the track on her Twitter account.

Another medal hopeful, Michaela Walsh, was equally taken aback by the facilities with the Belfast boxer, who took the silver at last summer's Commonwealth Games following a split decision loss to Nicola Adams, taking to social media to say: "Got to see the Crystal Hall Stadium where we will be boxing.

"Class arena - can't wait to get in and box there.

"Baku is a beautiful place."

Walsh's fellow boxer Katie Taylor has been selected as the Team Ireland flag bearer for today's opening ceremony and is similarly excited.

The five-time world champion said: "I really can't wait to be boxing and representing my country again in such a major competition.

"It's an absolute privilege that I have another chance to make history.

"It's always great to go into a country where they are very knowledgeable about the sport and to be with a really strong Irish boxing team as well."

The London 2012 Olympic gold medallist is gunning for more success in the Azeri capital.

"We're all there to win the gold medal but only one person walks out with a gold medal, and I plan to be that person," she added.

"I want to be the best female boxer of all time."

The Games will, however, begin under a cloud after news emerged that three Austrian athletes were injured in a traffic collision yesterday.

The accident, that occurred inside the transport depot of the athletes village, resulted in synchronised swimmers Vanessa Sahinovic and Luna Pajer having to return to Vienna for treatment.

A third athlete, Verena Breit, received only minor injuries and returned to her team-mates a short time later.

Belfast Telegraph


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