Ireland will be represented by a 54-strong team at the Olympic Games in Beijing, which gets underway this Friday.
The Irish team will challenge for medals in 12 disciplines – athletics, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming, and for the first time, triathlon.
Information on the team were revealed at a conference attended by Sports Minister Martin Cullen and Chinese Ambassador to Ireland Mr Lui Bewei at Dublin’s Conrad Hotel.
The Irish team will compete in equipment developed by Asics and departed in tranches for acclimatisation at various destinations including Vladivostok in Russia and Matsui in Japan.
The team is now settled into the village, and word has it that team management is very happy with where they’ve been positioned, which wasn’t the case in Athens.
Most of the sports will take place in the Olympic city of Beijing, with the sailing team competing in the coastal city of Qingdao and the equestrian team in Hong Kong.
Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) President Pat Hickey praised the efforts of the athletes, their coaches and national federations for their sustained effort to gain Olympic qualification.
“I know that the athletes will represent Ireland on the world’s greatest sporting stage with pride and passion,” he said.
Ambassador Lui presented special Olympic pins to the Olympic athletes present at the team launch including Siobhan Byrne, the first fencer to reach the Games since Michael O’Brien in Barcelona in 1992.
The Chef de Mission (team manager) of the Irish team is Dermot Henihan from Limerick and the Deputy Chef de Mission is Tom Rafter from Co Dublin.
Ireland’s Olympic medical support team will be headed by Dr Sean Gaine of the Mater Hospital, Dublin and by Chief Physiotherapist Dr Marie-Elaine Grant.
The opening ceremony of the Games takes place on the eighth minute, of the eighth hour, of the eighth day, of the eighth month of 2008, as eight is the Chinese ‘good luck’ number. Over 10,500 athletes from 204 countries will compete in 27 sports in the two-week Games.
The track and field events commence on August 15th and Waterford’s Jamie Costin of Ring Old Parish will compete in the 50 kilometre walk on August 16th, the day before Waterford’s All-Ireland semi-final clash with Tipperary.
Jamie has done incredibly well to recover from a very serious injury sustained in a car accident at the Athens Olympics four years ago
Geoff Curran, the other Waterford competitor, a native of Fenor will be in action in the eventing arena.
Coming from the Castlewood Stables, Geoff has had a great love of horses throughout his life. He joined the army, where he knew it was possible to get involved with horses and combine it with a career.
Now established on the army team, Curran will compete in the dressage event that will be held some distance from Beijing in the old British enclave of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a less polluted area of China and is considered more suitable for horses, where they have excellent facilities, exemplified by the Hong Kong Track with its long established reputation of top class racing.
Both Old Parish and Fenor are awash with colour in honour of their Olympians, and having been in both villages over the past few days, the expectation is clearly building across the county.
Of course, we’ll miss cyclist Ciaran Power from this Olympiad, having performed so well in Athens but we look forward to seeing Nicholas Roche (son of Stephen), Philip Deignan, David O’Loughlin and Robin Seymour saddled up wearing the green.
Carrick-on-Suir’s Billy Kennedy, the cycling member of the OCI’s Executive Committee, is looking forward to seeing both the 23-year-old Roche and Deignan in next Tuesday’s road race.
O’Loughlin will be in pursuit action in the Beijing velodrome while Wicklow-born Seymour (14 times Irish champion) will be mountain biking it for the second successive Olympics.
Among them are Kilkenny’s Eileen O’Keeffe in the hammer, competing in her first Games.
A native of Callan, O’Keeffe finished sixth in the 2006 World Championships in Osaka and is a genuine contender to reach the final of her discipline.
Fellow Kilkenny athlete and Irish record holder Joanne Cuddihy (24) will be aiming to burn up the Beijing tartan in the 400 metres.
Clonmel-born and Dublin-raised Thomas Chamney of Crusaders AC will be hoping to acquit himself well in the 800 metres, but knows he’s facing a tough challenge.
The national half-mile champion, who has been plying his running trade in the United States, has trained with some of the world’s best, including Spain’s Reyes Estevez.
Minister Martin Cullen leads the Irish delegation as Minister for Sport and we wish him well in his support and perhaps he’ll drum up some trade for Ireland during his sojourn in China.
The Irish team in full is:
Athletics – Jamie Costin (50K walk), Alastair Cragg (1500 metres), Martin Fagan (marathon), David Gillick (400m), Colin Griffin (50K/20K walk), Robert Heffernan (20K walk), Paul Hession (100m/200m), Fionnuala Britton (3000m steeplechase), Joanne Cuddihy (400m), Olive Loughnane (20K walk), Roisin McGettigan (3000m steeplechase), Derval O’Rourke (100m hurdles), Eileen O’Keeffe (hammer), Thomas Chamney (800 metres), Pauline Curley (marathon) and Michelle Cary (400m hurdles).
Badminton – Scott Evans (singles) and Chloe Magee (singles).
Boxing – Paddy Barnes (Light Flyweight), Kenneth Egan (Light Heavyweight), John Joe Nevin (Bantamweight), Darren Sutherland (Middleweight), John Joe Joyce (Light Welterweight).
Canoeing – Eoin Rheinisch (Men’s Kayak K1).
Cycling – Nicholas Roche (Road Race), Philip Deignan (Road Race), Robin Seymour (Mountain Bike) and David O’Loughlin (4K Individual Pursuit).
Equestrian – Denis Lynch (Showjumping), Geoff Curran (Eventing), Louise Lyons (Eventing), Niall Griffin (Eventing), Patricia Ryan (Eventing), Austin O’Connor (Eventing).
Fencing – Siobhan Byrne.
Rowing – Jonno Devlin (Heavyweight Coxless Four), Sean Casey (Heavyweight Coxless Four), Cormac Folan (Heavyweight Coxless Four), Paul Griffin (Lightweight Coxless Four), Richard Archibald (Heavyweight Coxless Four), Gearoid Towey (Lightweight Coxless Four), Cathal Moynihan (Lightweight Coxless Four) and Sean O’Neill (Heavyweight Coxless Four).
Sailing – Tim Goodbody (Finn), Phil Lawton (470 Crew), Gerald Owens (470 Helm), Ciara Peelo (Singlehanded), Peter O’Leary (Star Helm) and Stephen Milne (Star Crew).
Shooting – Derek Burnett (Trap).
Swimming – Andrew Bree (200m breaststroke), Melanie Nocher (200m backstroke) and Aisling Cooney (100m backstroke).
Triathlon – Emma Davis.