Tokyo Paralympic Games: meet the Paralympians from Northern Ireland

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Seven North Irish athletes are among 4,400 competitors at the Tokyo Games
Place: Tokyo, Japan Appointment: August 24-September 5 Time in Tokyo: BST +8
Blanket: To be continued on Radio 5 Live and on the BBC Sport website

A year later than expected, the Tokyo Paralympic Games have finally arrived.

Amid rising Covid-19 cases in the Japanese capital, the Games will unfold under unprecedented circumstances as Tokyo becomes the first host city to host the Paralympic Games for the second time.

Of the 4,400 athletes competing, seven from Northern Ireland; three representing Great Britain and four representing Ireland.

Of the seven, two are making their Paralympic debuts and three return as defending champions after winning gold in Rio five years ago.

As the Games begin, BBC Sport NI takes a look at what lies ahead for the Northern Ireland Paralympians.

Jason Smyth – Athletics – Ireland

The greatest Paralympic sprinter of all time is back.

Smyth’s reputation predates his entry into Tokyo and there is no reason to be shy that he hope to win gold, given that he has been on the podium 20 times in major championships.

Unbeaten in Paralympic competition, Eglinton’s 100m man record in 10.46 seconds that earned him gold in London 2012 remains the fastest time in T13 history.

With the T13 200m withdrawn from the program by the International Paralympic Committee, Smyth was unable to complete his double gold medals of 2008 and 2012 in Rio, but he still reigned supreme in the 100m to win a fifth Paralympic gold.

Sunday 29 August is his big day in Tokyo, with sleeves starting at 04:28 BST before the final of the end of day session, between 11:00 a.m. and 2:05 p.m. BST.

Irish great Smyth to avoid ‘noise and negatives’ as he pursues sixth Paralympic gold

Barry McClements – Swimming – Ireland

It is the first Games for 19-year-old swimmer Barry McClements.

The Newtownards man made his first big impact in senior competition at just 15, winning gold in the S9 400m freestyle at the World Para Swimming Series in Copenhagen four years ago.

McClements was half a second away from a place in the 2019 World Championships final and is hoping to make more finals this time around, competing in four events.

The first heats are the S9 400m freestyle series starting on Wednesday at 1:06 BST, making him the first Irish competitor to open its Paralympic campaign in Tokyo.

Bethany Firth – Swimming – Great Britain

Another decorated Paralympian returning to add to an already impressive run, Seaforde’s Firth is a far cry from the relatively unknown prospect that clinched a stunning surprise gold at the London 2012 Games.

The 25-year-old returns to defend the S14 titles in the 200m freestyle, 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley she won in Rio to bring her Paralympic gold total to four.

Despite the incredible success, Firth insists that enjoying the competition is his priority number one having been forced to improvise her training using a paddling pool during confinements last year.

Freestyle heats begin Friday August 27 from 01:20 BST, where the defending champion hopes to be operational by the third day of competition at the Games.

‘I was shy about my disability’ – Firth explains how the Paralympics helped her

James MacSorley – Wheelchair Basketball – Great Britain

This may be Belfast’s first Paralympic Games for James MacSorley, but expectations abound on the wheelchair basketball player’s shoulders.

MacSorley is part of Britain’s 12-man panel, with the reigning world champions expecting to be firmly in the race for gold.

The 26-year-old plays for Spain’s ADM Econy Gran Canaria club and is no stranger to the international setup, having made his senior debut in Britain’s 2018 World Championship triumph.

Defending Paralympic champions USA wait in the group stage, but GB’s campaign begins against Algeria at 6:45 am BST Thursday.

Michael McKillop – Athletics – Ireland

There is something at stake for every Paralympian competing in Tokyo, but few have given themselves as final an ultimatum as Michael McKillop.

Belfast runner says he will leave Japan either as a 2020 Paralympic medalist or as a retired athlete.

Like Firth and Smyth, he has little to prove in terms of Paralympic caliber having won gold at each of the last three Games, twice in 2012.

At 31, he knows all too well the sacrifices and rigors of training that accompany the commitment to a new Paralympic cycle, and that is why he will take stock after the T38 1500m, with the final on Saturday September 4 at 11:15 am BST.

This is a new Paralympic category for McKillop, whose previous gold was in T37 which was scrapped ahead of the 2019 World Championships.

“If I don’t win a medal, I think I’ll retire” – Emotional McKillop visits Tokyo

Claire Taggart РP̩tanque РGreat Britain

Five years after becoming Northern Ireland’s first boccia Paralympian, Claire Taggart de Larne aims to do at least one better than the quarter-finals, where her run in Rio ended.

At the time, Taggart was a newcomer to the sport, not having started it until 2012, but now the 26-year-old comes to Japan with considerable pedigree.

Before the pandemic brought competition to a halt, Taggart was in great shape, winning gold at the 2019 European Open and taking individual silver and team bronze at the European Regional Championships.

Having had to protect herself from much of the pandemic, Taggart’s preparations were significantly disrupted, but she got a boost in june when she was granted exclusive access to a local venue, which allowed her to devote more time to training in the run-up to the Games.

The individual BC2 competition starts on Saturday August 28 at 5:20 am BST.

Larne Taggart’s Paralympic athlete ready for Tokyo challenge

Phil Eaglesham – Shooting – Ireland

Phil Eaglesham of Dungannon returns for his second Paralympic Games, having finished 30th in the 10m air rifle event in Rio.

Now stripped of Rio’s familiar beard, which he later said he saw as a “disguise” over his own mental health issues, Eaglesham, a father of three, is a passionate mental health activist. who hopes his own storyexternal link can serve as inspiration for others.

The former Royal Marine has already made Irish para-shooting history, winning the country’s first-ever medal at the World Championships when he won bronze in 2019.

That was enough to secure his place in Tokyo, where his journey will begin with the R4 qualification on Monday at 5:15 am BST.

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