Northern Ireland atheletes hoping to strike gold at Tokyo Paralympics

Seven local athletes will be hoping to strike gold at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics which run from August 24 to September 5.

Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 12:19 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 12:21 pm

It is the most experienced squad to leave these shores for the Paralympics.

Swimmer Bethany Firth, wheelchair basketballer James MacSorley and boccia player Claire Taggart will represent Great Britain while sprinter Jason Smyth, 1500 metre specialist Michael McKillop MBE, swimmer Barry McClements and shooter Philip Eaglesham will compete for Ireland.

McClements is making his Paralympics debut, although he has plenty of international experience despite just being 19-years-old.

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Bethany Firth has won a string of medals at the Paralympics.

The Newtonards native narrowly missed out on a place at the 2016 Rio Games but swam at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games in 2018 then went to the World Para Swimming Championships in London a year later.

Firth will be hoping to add to her four Paralympic golds and one silver medal. The Seaforde swimmer won her first gold representing Ireland at London 2012.

Firth switched to Team GB, winning gold in the 100m backstroke, the 200m freestyle and the 200m individual medley she also made the podium with a silver medal in the 100m breaststroke.

Firth will defend all three of her titles in Tokyo as well as competing in the relay.

Eglantine sprinter Smyth is also a multiple Paralympic gold medallist.

Smyth did the 100m and 200m double at both the Beijing games in 2008 and London four years later, there was no 200m at Rio but Smyth won the 100m for a fifth gold medal and defends his crown in Tokyo.

McKilliop booked his place at his fourth Paralympics after returning from a two-year injury.

The Newtownabbey middle distancer won the 800m in Beijing, he defended his title in London and also won the 1500m.

In Rio he won the 1500m again and will defend his title this time around.

Double basketball wheelchair gold medallist MacSorley is competing at his first Paralympics.

The Belfast man has been playing his club basketball in Spain and helped Great Britain to win the U23s’ World title in 2017.

A year later MacSorley helped the Great Britain senior team win the World Championship in Hamburg and they go into the Tokyo games as the number one-ranked side.

Larne’s Taggart was the first athlete from Northern Ireland to compete in boccia when she made the GB team for Rio.

Taggart won back-to-back UK Championships in 2018 and 2019 and won a silver medal at the European Championships two years ago, which has helped her to rise to 10th in the World rankings.

Eaglesham is going to his second Paralympics - the Dungannon shooter recently helped Ireland secure their first ever medals at the World Championships.

Disability Sport Northern Ireland’s performance pathway manager Elaine Reid is hoping the local athletes will come home from Tokyo with medals.

“Northern Ireland athletes have really led the way in regards to Paralympic medal success over the last three cycles and we’re confident that Tokyo will be no different,” said Reid. “We are delighted to have such a strong contingent going into the Games but we are also excited to see James MacSorely and Barry McClements make their debut this summer, which I’m sure will only be the start of their Paralympic journey.”