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Sunday 11 December 2016

Special Olympics: Taoiseach hails Irish 'superstars' as another remarkable day for Team Ireland sees medal haul rises to 33

Team Ireland' Nuala Browne, right, a member of North West Special Olympics Club, from Strabane, Co Tyrone, who celebrates after winning a Silver Medal for finishing second in the KT 500M Race Singles Tourist - Div 06, with Nicola Higgins, a member of Free Spirit Special Olympics Kayaking Club, from Coolock, Dublin, who finished 5th in the Kayaking at the Miami Marine Stadium, Long Beach
Team Ireland' Nuala Browne, right, a member of North West Special Olympics Club, from Strabane, Co Tyrone, who celebrates after winning a Silver Medal for finishing second in the KT 500M Race Singles Tourist - Div 06, with Nicola Higgins, a member of Free Spirit Special Olympics Kayaking Club, from Coolock, Dublin, who finished 5th in the Kayaking at the Miami Marine Stadium, Long Beach
Angelina Foley, SO Ireland, right, with Team Irelands Nuala Browne, a member of North West Special Olympics Club, from Strabane, Co Tyrone, who celebrates after winning a Silver Medal for finishing second in the KT 500M Race Singles Tourist - Div 06, in the Kayaking at the Miami Marine Stadium, Long Beach

ON land, on sea or on horseback – it doesn’t matter to Team Ireland at the Special Olympics.

The country’s medal haul has risen to 33 on Day Five of the World Games in Los Angeles, making it one of the most successful group of Irish athletes ever.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny sent a message to the team last night, saying: “I saw the clips from the Opening Ceremony; it was magnificent seeing all our proud athletes parade into the stadium. I saw you with Colin Farrell and Claudine Keane – neither will mind when I say that you were the real superstars on the night.”

Eleven medals were clinched yesterday in equestrian, kayaking, athletics, bocce, bowling and table tennis.

Much of the attention was on Long Beach where three Irish women ended up going head-to-head in the 500 metre kayak final.

READ MORE: Olympics 'brought to new level' with Irish support

While the competition was intense – resulting in a silver, bonze and fifth place for Ireland – there was hugs and cheers all around afterwards.

An athlete from Macau won but Nuala Browne (39) from Tyrone was a close second, followed by Rita Quirke (54) from Kidare in second.

And Nicola Higgins (34) from Dublin was awarded a merit ribbon for her fifth place finish.

Nicola's sister Mary Sheahan told independent.ie: "I was so excited watch the race. It was great seeing the other two girls medals from Ireland.

"It's been a really long journey for our family and we're all so excited."

Nuala said couldn't wait to bring home her silver medal. "I feel proud and happy" she said.

Kayak coach chaperone Angelina Foley, from Rathmore, Co Kerry said: “It was really, really exciting. We were so nervous and now we’re so proud of all the kayakers. They’ve just tried their very best and put so much effort into it.”

In equestrian Team Ireland was led by 37-year-old Elizabeth Mair from Rathfarnham, Dublin who collected her second gold of the Games.

There was also success for teammate John Deevy (38) from Kilmeadan, Waterford who matched his teammate by taking gold in the dressage.

On the athletics track in the University of Southern California Timothy Morahan from Rathmines in Dublin claimed a bronze medal in the 800M while 36-year-old Lisa O’Brien from Charleville, Co. Cork secured two bonze medals in the 50 metre and 25 metre sprints.

In bowling Ruth Geerah (35) from Mullingar, Co Westmeath clinched gold in the singles match.

And there were more emotional scenes when Anne Hoey (51) from Co Louth won gold in her singles bocce match. It marked a clean sweep for Ireland in that competition, which is similar to bowls, after Peter Malynn won gold earlier in the week.

Liam Foley (17) from Enfield, Co Meath had Ireland’s first success on the badminton court, winning a bronze.

And as the Games enter the final two days there are high hopes for the soccer and basketball teams.

The ladies basketball team produced a fine display to beat Ecuador 19-12, while the 11-a-side football team also recorded a victory putting two goals past Bharat.

The soccer squad play Great Britain today in a crunch match.

Tying up what was a fantastic day for Team Ireland, athletes also recorded a number of personal

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “To represent your country at Olympic level is a fantastic achievement; very few people get a chance to pull on an Irish shirt at Olympic Games – enjoy that moment.

“ Your family and friends are very, very proud of you. We here at home are also very, very proud of you.  You are representing your country with pride and distinction and we are all cheering you on. So, go on Team Ireland, do the job.”

Commenting on Team Ireland’s fifth day at LA2015, Matt English, CEO Special Olympics Ireland said: “.I know family, friends and supporters, and indeed the general public back home are very much behind the team and cheering their every success. I would also like to thank Taoiseach Enda Kenny for his very kind message of support.”

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