This evening, the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will raise the curtain on what promises to be eleven days of spectacular sporting competition. For the 48 strong contingent of Irish athletes who have spent the past two weeks at the Irish pre-Games holding camp in Uberlandia, final preparations have gone well and expectations are high for leading performances and continued Irish Paralympic success.
4336 athletes from 161 countries, including two refugee athletes competing under the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) flag, will take part in competitions across a range of 23 sports, ten of which will see participation from Irish athletes.
Ireland has a proud history in Paralympic Competition and in recent times, has seen Irish athletes Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop lead the way in became double Paralympic Gold Medallists. Smyth and McKillop return to the Paralympic Games as they seek to obtain gold medal success for a third time.
Other Irish names to look out for include Paralympic bronze medallist; Discus thrower Orla Barry who will look to improve on her London performance, World Championship Swimming bronze medallist Ellen Keane alongside new names such as teenage sensation, Noelle Lenihan from Cork taking part in the F38 Discus competition and cyclist Eoghan Clifford who will compete in the veledrome and on the road. Sports such as Canoeing and Triathlon will make their debut at these games with athletes Pat O’Leary, Fran Meehan and Paralympic medallist Catherine Walsh representing Irish interests.
“The mood in the Irish camp is good; there’s a great atmosphere,” said Team Chef de Mission, Denis Toomey speaking in advance of the Games. “The Rio Games will see the realisation of countless weeks, months and years of training and dedication for the athletes. Final preparations have gone well and I expect we will see many strong performances from the Irish team over the coming days. I am extremely proud and honoured to be able to lead this team to this their greatest stage.’
Day one of competition sees Irish athletes competing across six sports. Making her Paralympic debut Swimmer Ailbhe Kelly gets things underway in the S8 400m Freestyle heats. Kelly will be followed by Meath’s James Scully in the S5 200m Freestyle event. Athletics will see fellow debutant Greta Streimikyte in the semi-final of the T13 1500m while the fastest Paralympian on the planet; Jason Smyth will compete in the 100m T13 heats.
Other Irish athletes in competition will be Rena McCarron Rooney in the Table Tennis TT2 class singles first round matches, Sean Baldwin in the R1 10m Rifle Standing competition while Damien Vereker and Sean Hahessy will be in action at the Velodrome in the Individual Pursuit qualifying rounds. Finally, the Irish 7-a-side football team open their campaign against the Ukraine at 18.00 local time.
Extensive coverage of the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony can be seen on RTE2 Television at 22.30 with competition commencing on Thursday.
You can find all the latest schedules and info on Team Ireland here.