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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019

John Twomey: Ireland's flag bearer will be competing at his 11th (!) Paralympic Games

“It’s a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

John Twomey poses at the announcement of the Irish Paralympic Team for the 2016 Paralympic Games.
John Twomey poses at the announcement of the Irish Paralympic Team for the 2016 Paralympic Games.

CORK’S JOHN TWOMEY will have the honour of carrying the Irish flag at the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games.

The Kinsale native will be competing at an incredible 11th consecutive Paralympics when he travels to Rio as part of the Irish sailing team.

His Paralympic CV stretches all the way back to the 1976 Games in Toronto, with the highlights coming in Great Britain in 1984 when he won discus bronze before upgrading that prize to gold four years later in Seoul.

After switching his focus to sailing ahead of the Sydney Games in 2000, Twomey credits a fierce sense of competitiveness as the reason for his continued success.

“I’m a very competitive person,” he told The42 after Tuesday’s announcement. “I love competing.

“I threw the discus from 1976 up to 1996 and then I retired from that. The lads talked me into doing the sailing because I was always a sailor.

“I enjoy the competition. I love the sailing at the moment and I’ve a good team with me.

John Twomey shares a joke with Olympic sailor Analise Murphy Twomey chats with Irish Olympic sailor Annalise Murphy. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

An avid cyclist during his teenage years, Twomey’s life changed when he suffered a serious accident during a youth race. A spinal injury means that he is now a wheelchair user, but it hasn’t stopped him from collecting an assortment of inspiring life experiences.

While the Paralympics isn’t always afforded the bright lights of the media, Twomey and his team have been hard at work over the last few months as they prepare meticulously for Guanabara Bay.

“We spent a fortnight sailing in Rio in June. In May, we had our World Championships for a week in Holland and for 10 days before that, we were in a training camp in Holland with the Americans, the Canadians and the Norwegians.

“If you go back to April, we were at the Sailing World Cup and for 10 days before that we were training with the same teams,” continued the father of two.

“We had competitions most months. We’ve been on the road.  If you go back to November, we had our World Championships in Melbourne so we went over to Melbourne for six weeks.

James Espey, Ryan Seaton, Saskia Tidey, John Twomey, Matt McGovern, James O'Callaghan, Andrea Brewster, Finn Lynch and Ian Costello John Twomey with members of the Irish Paralympic sailing team heading to Rio. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“We spent most of the time we were there on the water training. We spent nearly three weeks in Miami in January then. It’s quite rigorous. We follow the same calendar as Olympic sailors.”

But the long road to Rio hasn’t been easy as the Irish team battled to compete with the significantly deeper pockets of larger nations.

“Financially, we would be at the bottom of the league obviously.

We’re a small country and we’ve gone through a terrible number of years with austerity and recession. The bigger countries have bigger budgets obviously.

“The whole thing has got totally professional. From a sailing perspective, a lot of the teams that we sail against are full-time sailors. They are supported by their national authorities and that’s all they do.”

His gold medal at the 1988 Paralympics highlights the extensive list of experiences that will most certainly be added to in Brazil.

“Anytime you win a medal, it’s a great memory really. The first sailing event in Sydney was a great experience because it was my first time sailing in the Paralympics with a team.

“They’ve all been good memories. The Paralympics are very, very special.

John Twomey Twomey at the 2012 Paralympics team announcement before the Games in London. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Looking ahead to Rio, the final touches are being put to preparations ahead of the events kicking off in South America. All the hard work has concluded and it’s merely a waiting game now for Twomey and his team.

“If we can go out and execute a good serious preparation in the regatta, limit mistakes and be clever, we can see where we are at the end of the day. We have the mileage in, we have the training in, but it’s a tricky place to sail.

It’s very challenging because the harbour is like a teardrop and the narrow end of the teardrop is where there is a very narrow entry into the open sea.

“You’re sailing just inside that so there’s a lot of water filtering in and out. The tide there is not that great. It’s only three feet, where in Kinsale it could be 12 or 14 feet. But there’s an awful lot of water going in and out.

“For such a short tidal range, the speed of the tide and the current running in and out of the harbour is amazing.

“But we have a lot of information that we got ourselves plus we’ve a lot of backup information from the Irish Sailing Association.”

Results aside, this year’s Paralympics are sure to be ranked among the most special experiences the Cork man has encountered. Carrying the national flag is a feeling that only a few in a lifetime encounter.

“It’s a great honour for me and it’s a great honour for my family to be asked to do that.

“I really appreciate the fact that I was asked and it’s a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

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