With under a year to go, the 2002 Special Olympics Ireland National Games played an important dual role in the build up to the 2003 World Summer Games. The National Games not only saw the selection of the team that will represent Ireland next year, but also acted as a test run for many areas in use for the World Games.
Parnell Park, home of Dublin’s Gaelic Athletic Association, was the venue for the Opening Ceremony of the 2002 Special Olympics Ireland National Games, with President Mary McAleese as Guest of Honour. Over 2000 athletes from the four Irish provinces and 20 European countries took part in the Parade of Athletes, with Irish International rugby player, Mick Galway accompanying the athletes from Munster. The Special Olympics Athletes’ Oath was taken on behalf of all the athletes competing by Thomas Campbell from Mayo, Jaume Farran from Spain and Javier Chamarro from Belgium.
The Special Olympics Torch, which was lit outside Belfast City Hall and carried by police officers of the Garda Siochana and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, arrived at Parnell Park to light the Special Olympics Flame. Tim Craig of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Fergal McDonagh of the Garda Siochana carried the Torch into the arena on behalf of the 500 police officers who had taken part in the Torch Run. Karina Houlihan from the Tipperary Special Olympics Club, representing Munster, lit the Flame.
Competition took place over three days with huge support from families, friends and a host of newly recruited volunteers. Many of the 5000 volunteers working on this year’s National Games were enjoying their first experience with Special Olympics, and are already preparing for the 2003 World Games.
Everybody involved in the National Games was delighted with the event—athletes and coaches, family members and volunteers. Catriona Barry, Manager of the Volunteer Programme, has already received many messages of thanks from volunteers working on the Games. ‘We were delighted with the enthusiasm of the volunteers throughout the Games; it was hard work for all, but they were always in good spirits, supporting the athletes and having a great time. It was a great experience for all and next year should be even better,’ she said.
Shortly after the National Games were officially closed with a Ceremony in Dublin’s Royal Dublin Society, the Irish team for next year’s Special Olympics World Games was selected. Team Ireland, with 452 athletes, will be the second largest delegation competing at the Games, with only the American delegation being bigger.
Speaking at the announcement, Pat Costello, National Director of Special Olympics Ireland, congratulated all the athletes chosen to go forward to the World Games next year: ‘It is the ultimate honour for any athlete to be chosen to represent their country and all the athletes selected deserve great credit for the commitment they have shown in their training and then at their various area, regional and national competitions over the past three years.’
With the successful completion of the Special Olympics Ireland National Games and the selection of the team that will represent Ireland next year, the countdown has begun as Ireland gears up to welcome the world for the most momentous sporting event ever to be held in Ireland. The 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games will kick off in spectacular fashion with an exciting Opening Ceremony on 21 June, in Dublin’s Croke Park, home of traditional Irish sports, Gaelic football and hurling.
If you are interested in learning more about the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games and their programmes, please log on to the official website, www.2003specialolympics.com and ‘Share the Feeling’ that this momentous event is generating.