Ireland's cyclists kick-start medal rush in Rio
AFTER a long drought, Ireland got no fewer than three medals on the seventh day of competition at the Paralympics in Rio.
All three came in the cycling time trials at Pontal as Eoghan Clifford followed up his bronze in the track pursuit with a gold in the C3 category, Katie-George Dunlevy, along with her pilot Eve McCrystal, stormed to victory in the women’s B tandem and Colin Lynch won silver in the C2 competition.
This doubled the Irish medal haul to six in a matter of hours and followed Clifford’s earlier success on the cycle track and the golden performances of Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth.
It also pushes Ireland closer to the pre-Games target of eight, but still well shy of the 16 medals lifted in London four years ago.
In truth it also came as a much-needed boost to the team morale that had fallen in the wake of some disappointing results in the previous three days. Lynch’s silver early in the morning seemed like a clarion call to the Irish contingent to up their game – especially at the cycling venue.
Eoghan Clifford had taken a bronze medal in the velodrome on Saturday when he finished third in C3 individual pursuit after an entertaining and competitive race-off against Canada’s Michael Sametz.
He complained then of a sore leg, but there was no evidence of it yesterday when he won the C3 time trial by over a minute.
Clifford is no stranger to Paralympic success despite only debuting on the international scene in 2014. The 36-year-old made his mark immediately by winning the road race world title in the USA and took UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup honours in Switzerland last year. The 2016 edition of the UCI
Para-Cycling Road World Cup saw further success for Clifford, winning gold in the time trial and a silver medal in the road race.
Katie-George Dunlevy and her pilot Eve McCrystal had narrowly missed out on a medal with a fifth place in the velodrome, but they bounced back with an emphatic victory in the tandem time trial B.
The pair had 33 seconds to spare over their nearest competitors and their win followed immediately after that of Clifford to give Ireland back to back victories.
It also caps a wonderful season for the pair after taking two gold medals at UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup earlier this year.
Colin Lynch too was not pleased with his performance in the velodrome, but the 45-year-old showed improved form to claim the silver medal in the C2 time trial behind Canada’s Tristen Chernove.
The Irish rider’s silver medal should atone for the disappointment in London when he missed out on a place on the podium by a mere tenth of a second.
“It’s something I’ve worked at now for four years and it’s an absolute dream,” said a delighted Lynch.
“It’s a dream to finally achieve the one thing that I didn’t have in the closet which is a Paralympic medal.
“After London I had to do a lot of soul-searching and had to ask myself if I was capable of performing at the top level still. “After making some changes and reassessing everything that I was doing, I was able to come back.
“I put all year into this one ride today and I’m pretty pleased. I would have obviously loved to have won the gold and it was obviously close, but to come away with a medal, it’s a four-year dream.”
However, there was no joy for Declan Slevin who finished 11th in the H3 Hand-Cycling road time trial.
The 47-year-old from Moate in county Westmeath finished four minutes and 40 seconds behind the Italian winner Vittorio Podesta.
Wicklow native Ciara Staunton was almost 12 minutes behind Karen Darke of Britain as she finished 11th and last in H1-2-3 time trial.
Damien Vereker and Sean Hahessy took sixth in B tandem time trial ahead of Peter Ryan and Marcin Mizgajski who were 17th.
And there was disappointment too for Sean Baldwin who missed out on qualifying for the R6 50m rifle prone final. Baldwin finished in 29th place with a score of 605.9 as a poor fourth round saw him drop down the rankings after he had recovered from slow start in the opening round.
In the pool, Ellen Keane comfortably qualified for the SB8 100m breaststroke final after winning her heat in a time of one minute 23.64 seconds. The 21-year-old Dubliner, who is competing in her third Paralympic Games, was the second-fastest qualifier overall.
County Down 20-year-old Bethany Firth moved inexorably toward another medal after qualifying third fastest for the S14 100m breaststroke final. The Ards Swim star’s winning heat time was over five seconds slower than the fastest qualifier, Michelle Alonso Morales of Spain, who beat Firth to the European title this summer.
Patrick O’Leary progressed to the final of the men’s KL3 canoeing event with a third place in his heat. It was O’Leary’s Paralympic debut as canoeing is making its first appearance at the Games. The Cork man only took up para-canoeing after having a leg amputated five years ago. His final is today at 2:10pm.
The Irish sailors John Twomey, Ian Costelloe and Austin O’Carroll showed improved form to finish ninth in race 4 of the Sonar class, their highest placing of the competition so far. However, they remain 13th overall, of the 14 crews, with six races left.
Ballymena 16-year-old Katie Morrow had a quieter game as Great Britain advanced to the semi-finals of the wheelchair basketball thanks to a 57-38 victory over China.
GB now play USA this afternoon with the winner going forward to contest the gold medal with either Germany or the Netherlands.
Ireland’s cerebral palsy football team lost 2-1 to the United States after taking an early lead and ended up eighth in what has been a below par campaign.