By Athens on 29/06/2011 21:44
Team Ireland’s journey to World Games began when we met up in a Dublin hotel on the eve of our flight to our host town on Rhodes. Everyone was very excited.
We had a very early start on Monday but everyone was up and ready to leave the hotel with 15 minutes to spare! Our flight to Rhodes was a very long flight but no-one minded. Rhodes is a beautiful island and we were staying in a fabulous hotel where we were very well looked-after
During 4 day stay on Rhodes, I took the lads out for 3 training sessions. We pushed the lads very hard during these sessions as their fitness wasn’t as good as I would have like it to be, but we made sure they took on plenty of water with 5 water breaks during each 90 minute training session. The first training session was very poor and the lads really struggled with the heat. The second session was big improvement and by the third session, the heat was no longer such an issue for the team.
After the torch run ceremony in Rhodes, we made our way to the port for our dreaded 17 hour ferry journey to Athens. We got on the ferry early, found 20 seats together near a café, and the journey turned out to be much less worse than we had feared.
There were several other Special Olympics delegations on board including the several hundred members of Team USA. We had great craic during the journey with some of the other delegations, particularly the Team USA powerlifters.
The lads all had a v early start and we went out on deck to watch the sunrise and admire the beautiful Greek islands that we passed. For many of our football lads, it was their first time being awake at 6.15 in the morning and many had never seen a sunrise before.
We were taken from the ship to our accommodation in Special Olympics Village. Unfortunately the accommodation that had been provided for us here was below standard and unsuitable for our group, with the lack of sports facilities being a particular worry. We brought this to the attention of the Team Ireland Management team who did their best to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
The Opening Ceremony was amazing – although it was a bit too long. We got home at just before 4am and had to get up again at 6.30am for our divisioning games. Everyone was a bit cranky but the thought of moving to the Best Western Hotel where we were assured of a good kip got us all through the day.
Our first divisioning game was against Denmark. We had met these lads in the Special Olympics Village. They were big strong lads but our Irish team could still have beaten them. I guess the result was understandable in the circumstances.
Our second game was against the Greek B Team. We won this game 1-0 and were a far superior team to them. Hughie Sweeney scored the goal which was his first goal in an Irish jersey. He had possession of the ball again when his name was announced as the goal scorer and he actually stopped to celebrate and lost possession!!!
Our new hotel that evening was far superior and we were delighted with it. The food there is great. The lads all went for a 3 hour nap that afternoon and then after dinner we went for a walk on the beach.
We were all much fresher heading to the venue on Day 2 of divisioning. Our next game was against Bangladesh who were a much trickier team that we had expected. Kenneth Irvine scored the match winner with a 35 yard free kick that went straight into the top right hand corner. We should have won by more but were still happy with the win.
Our final divisioning game was against the Greek A Team. This was a much tougher game but our lads gave a great performance and the game was won with a Michael Neville goal. The highlight of the game was Michael’s goal celebration where he screamed so loudly, I think they must have heard him back in Limerick.
At the end of divisioning we were handed our competition group which includes Turkey, GB, Australia and India. I had predicted that all of these teams bar India would be in our group. Lots of these teams are friends who we’ve played previously but all friendships will be left behind once we take to the pitch.
Our first game was against Turkey. The whole team went out for a walk on the evening before the game, and we popped into a church where a lot of candles were lit for us!
I’ll tell you more about that game next time.
By Athens on 29/06/2011 20:03
||Here I am with my silver medal for the 100m Backstroke|
I was very excited when we all gathered in Dublin the night before flying out to Athens. We had to get up very early on the Monday morning but I didn’t mind as I was so excited.
We flew to Rhodes which was our host town. It was lovely there. The food was great and I went swimming in the sea for the very first time. There were events organised for us every evening. We saw Greek dancing one evening. The Greek dancers were very good. Some people joined in but I didn’t.
On Thursday we had a very long ferry journey to Athens. Athens is a fabulous city and we have great support here.
Our accommodation in Athens is fabulous. I am sharing a room with Ciara and Caitriona. I am used to sharing with Ciara since we shared a room at our training sessions. Caitriona is very nice as well and we have a great laugh.
The Opening Ceremony was great. The whole evening was brilliant and I was very emotional. Everything was perfect. We got a huge cheer when we entered the stadium from all the Irish supporters that were there. It went on very late and it was after 2 when we got home. Unfortunately I had to swim the next day in my divisioning.
I was very tired at divisioning and it was very tough to swim but I still managed to do well.
I was very nervous before I swam in the final of the 100m backstroke. But Jenny took me outside, and we did some breathing exercises which helped me to relax.
There was loads of people cheering me on when I got into the pool. I was very happy with how the race went. I was thrilled and surprised to win a silver medal
After the award ceremony, I was interviewed by RTE News and I met Ian Dempsey. I was delighted to meet Ian and have my photo taken with him. I’ll have to tell my friend Mary who’s a big fan of his all about it.
By Athens on 29/06/2011 19:35
Walking through Parliament Square during the weekend, you could sense an air of conflict which was reiterated by hundreds of posters and graffiti which although in a different language certainly didn’t look inviting. Rumours around the hotel foyer in the evening seem to suggest that the schedule for next two days would be thrown into disarray due to the 48 hour strike and resulting riots in the city centre. The absence of public transport certainly would cause major disruption and the hotel staff did suggest we remain around the hotel for the duration of the strike.
Management and volunteers alike however felt that while safety was a priority, there were jobs to be done and the Greek volunteers were depending on the Irish volunteer group and we were not going to let them down. In addition, the Games schedule was unaffected by the unrest and so Team Ireland were out there competing at their level best and we wanted to support them at every available opportunity. So we organised private taxis to take us to our various destinations, and apart from major delays with traffic seriously disrupted, we eventually arrived to our various posts to begin the work we were assigned to do. You could see the relief on the faces of our fellow Greek volunteers whose numbers were seriously diminished, as taxis were not a feasible option for the many living a good distance from the various venues. Their gratitude and appreciation were obvious from the outset and so we felt our efforts had already paid off, and the day had only begun. A good start is half the battle.
A secondary school teacher by profession, I have always tried to instil the ethos of Special Olympics into the curriculum. After the 2007 World Summer Games in Shanghai, I introduced the work of Special Olympics Ireland into the transition year programme through a module called social science. I am very proud to say that three of those TY pupils back in 2007 are now here amongst the Irish delegation of official volunteers. I would like to think that the sense of reward from working with Special Olympics is what inspired these girls to become involved and ultimately represent Ireland as official volunteers at a World Games.
All three girls like myself hail from Kiltimagh, in Co. Mayo. Here in Athens, Helen Shannon is based in aquatics while Megan Cleary and Katie Duffy are both involved in the award ceremonies for bowling and bocce, respectively. Asking the girls of their experience to date a few days in, they said ‘How do we describe it? Your whole outlook on life changes. All the things you take for granted every day mean so much more. This is an experience that only those who witness can appreciate’. I could not have summed it up better myself.
By Athens on 29/06/2011 19:27
A mass of bodies in green shirts, the hotel foyer a hive of activity, everyone double checking schedules and destinations, day one was here – the Games had begun.
For much of Day One, I was assigned to the ‘Athletes Village’ where the athletes reside when not competing and for the duration of the Games. Situated approximately 1 hour from the city, the village is divided into compounds, each of which hosts a number of different delegations. The compound, to which we were assigned, included Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Japan. Suffice to say none of the above have English as their official language and few within the delegation could speak any English at all.
Fortunately Special Olympics, by nature, breaks down barriers and so even the language barrier pales into insignificance. We, along with other international volunteers, played games and drew pictures with the athletes and tried as much as possible to ensure they were relaxed and above all, happy. Here you notice many things outside the competitive side of the Games – you see the athletes in a different environment whereby they can interact with one another and the volunteers.
You also see, first-hand, the dedication and commitment of the coaches who are with the athletes before, during and after the competitions. And sometimes the favour is returned as one very astute Venezuelan athlete proved to us. As they were practising their basketball on the court with their coach on the sideline encouraging them, the athlete walked off the court mid-play, took the hand of his coach, sat him down and began to give him a back massage. The coach didn’t complain – to witness such a definitive bond is very moving.
Arriving back to the hotel that night, I was met with some of the volunteers who were arriving back from a barbecue kindly hosted by Michael Ring, T.D. One of the highlights of each day is those initial moments in the hotel lobby as the volunteers return from their different destinations and share stories of the day, be it of triumph or heartache. Today it was triumph as Aisling Beacom from Wicklow won the first medal for Ireland in aquatics.
A fellow volunteer, Patricia Gilmartin from Ballina, Co. Mayo told me of one athlete from Peru who was struggling to finish a 100m walking race. Everyone in the stadium looked on and then clapped in unison until when he finally finished and raised his hands high in the air like he had won gold.
But that’s the essence of Special Olympics – it is not about winning the gold, it’s about winning at life.
By Athens on 29/06/2011 19:22
I arrived at Dublin airport on Thursday, June 23rd to a sea of green as close to 200 staff & management amalgamated to depart for the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens. Volunteers do what they do for many different reasons, but one thing for sure, from personal experience, is that whatever you expect to receive, you are guaranteed to achieve that and more.
The enormity of such an event can be both exciting and daunting. However some familiar faces from Shanghai in 2007 meant that more like me gain so much from Special Olympics that it gets increasingly difficult to take a back seat. The experience of the 2007 World Games, and indeed our own incredible success in Dublin in 2003, meant we were here to stay.
Base camp is a hotel approximately 20 minutes drive from the city centre. Despite the political unrest, travelling by public transport is relatively easy, made even easier by the hospitality of the local people who cannot be more welcoming ,friendly and approachable. We haven’t been forgotten by our own people with a welcoming party hosted by Denis O’Brien, for families and volunteers.
Making our way to the Opening Ceremony, a mass of 200 green shirts on the public transport system, the Irish had already made their mark. What a show.
Credit to the people of Athens and Greece, and to the thousands of Greek volunteers who ensured that the 4-hour spectacle went off without a credit, fitting in that in the European Year of the Volunteer, the role of such people can never be underestimated.. The parade of athletes saw athletes from all over the world make their mark on a global stage. But there was no nationality as proud and as well represented as the Irish – and the noise from the stadium when the Irish delegation took to the stage may well have been heard at home
To the echo of the Special Olympics Anthem “It’s a Wonderful Winning Life”, the flag was raised and everyone was ready to roll.
Let the Games begin!
By Special Olympics Ireland on 29/06/2011 17:36
||Equestrian gold medal winner Steven Yetman with his parents & coach Caroline Brennan|
Team Ireland put in another day of strong performances at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens.
In the men’s doubles bowling competition Paul Bridgman (Cobh, Co. Cork) and Michael Hardiman (Tallaght, Co. Dublin) put in a great display earning them a gold medal. Meanwhile in another division of the men’s doubles bowling, Ciaran Mallon (Newry, Co. Down) and Jonathon Griffin (Ballinasloe, Co. Galway) also earned gold for their efforts.
It was another exciting day in gymnastics with Laura Rumball (Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin) winning one silver and two bronze medals for her Artistic gymnastics display. Fellow gymnastics team mate, Carole Ryan (Newtown, Co. Wexford) took two gold medals following her Artistic gymnastics routine.
Our equestrian athletes were also in action today. John Loughane (Ballinasloe, Co. Galway) came fourth in his event while Conor MacGearailt (Athy, Co. Kildare) won silver for equitation, Pamela Collins (Kanturk, Co. Cork) won silver for her event, Sally Duffy won silver and Steven Yetman (Donaghadee, Co. Down) won gold.
In football the men’s 11-a-side team put in a winning performance against India securing them a 5 – 1 victory. Meanwhile in the 5-a-side competition the men’s team beat Finland 2 – 0.
The medal tally at the end of day four of the Games stands at 34 (10 Gold; 19 Silver; 5 Bronze). Speaking about Team Ireland’s performance so far Matt English, CEO Special Olympics Ireland said “We are so proud of Team Ireland. They are representing us all so well here in Athens. I would also like to pay tribute to them their coaches and the volunteers who helped to prepare them so well for the Games and who are here supporting and cheering them on – it’s been a fantastic team effort!”
Team Ireland will be in action once again tomorrow. To follow their progress, or to leave a message of support, please visit www.specialolympics.ie/athens. You can also download a free iPhone App from the Apple iStore which will enable you to track your local athlete while on the go. Team Ireland are proudly supported by eircom.
By AthensResults on 29/06/2011 15:49
||Ireland 5 - 1 India|
|| Men's 5-a-side|
||Ireland 2 - 0 Finland|
|| Women's 5-a-side|
||Ireland 0 - 2 Thailand|
By AthensResults on 29/06/2011 15:47
|| Carole Ryan|
|| Gymnastics (Artistic)|
|| 2 Golds|
By AthensResults on 29/06/2011 14:39
By AthensResults on 29/06/2011 14:27