As Paralympian John Twomey headed off for his 11th consecutive Paralympics this month, Kieran O’ Mahony spoke with the Ballinhassig native as he prepared to travel to Rio de Janeiro to take part in the sailing events
PARALYMPIAN legend John Twomey will bring down the curtain on what has undoubtedly been an amazing Paralympic sailing career as he says his final farewell at this month’s games. Competing in his 11th consecutive Games – a record for an Irish athlete ¬– it’s only fitting that John has been selected as the Irish flag bearer to lead the Irish team out at the opening ceremony in the Maracana Stadium in Rio on September 7th.
The 61-year-old former accountant will be competing in the three-person keelboat (Sonar) event along with Ian Costelloe and Austin O’Carroll and as the skipper of the team John is hoping to better their 11th place position, which they achieved in London 2012.
Having made his debut Paralympic appearance at the Montreal Games in 1976 in Discus, it’s been a life changing journey for John, who broke his neck and back, following a cycling accident at the age of 14.
Never one to dwell on his predicament, John got on with things and became more determined to succeed and it wasn’t long before he took up sailing where he is a member of Kinsale Yacht Club.
Medal success has also come to John as he won bronze in Discus in Great Britain in 1984 and Gold in Seoul in 1988. But it wasn’t until the Sydney Games in 2000 that he switched over to sailing, a sport he loves.
Following our recent Olympic silver medal successes in the water, John and his team are hoping to do equally as well.
‘Preparations are going good for the games and we’re actually heading out to Rio early before the games start on September 7th as we’ll be doing a bit of training and we will assemble the boats there,’ John told The Southern Star.
‘We’ve put a lot of mileage into our training this time and we’ve been training with the Americans and Canadians in various venues where the Sailing World Cup championships are on.
The minimum we would expect is to get into the top 10 at least.’
‘Team Ireland did very well overall in the Olympics but I was very disappointed for the boxers because normally we are very competitive. It has been a mixed bag overall but the O’Donovan brothers from Skibbereen and Annalise Murphy did brilliantly with their silver medals.’
As a member of Kinsale Yacht Club, John sees our Olympic successes in the water as a great boost to the sport of sailing.
‘We are an island nation and it’s great to see us making the most of it. There are sailing clubs in a lot of towns across the country and I would encourage young people especially to get out there and join one.’
While there has been a lot of talk about issues with the water, the ever-pragmatic John said he and his team will just get on with their job of reaching the final.
‘It’s been an amazing experience to be able to represent Ireland in a sport that I love and have been involved in for many years and it keeps me in top form too,’ added John.
The trio have been performing well this year and back in May they came 9th at the Para Sailing World Championships in Holland so John is confident that of a good games in their sport which only became a full medal sport at the 2000 Games in Sydney. John had planned to retire after the London Games in 2012 but changed his mind not long after to give it one last shot.
‘It would of course be nice to go out with a medal no matter what colour it is,’ joked John.
John has huge praise for Paralympics Ireland who is sending out 48 participants as part of Team Ireland.
‘Paralympics Ireland have a great set up and they have a very good system for advising people in preparation for the games. They’ve give advice on travel arrangements and climatisation and we will be based at Uberlandia, north west of Rio for our pre Games holding camp.’
While his Mary and his two daughters, Mariel and Janice won’t be making the journey out to Rio; John has said that the planned extended coverage of the Games by RTÉ is a great boost for everyone.
‘Channel 4 had great coverage of the games in 2012 so it’s encouraging to see that RTÉ will be providing 30 hours of live coverage over the course of the 10 day event.’
As this will be definitely be his final Paralympic Games, being asked to be the flag bearer is a nice touch to what has been an amazing sailing career.
‘It’s a great honour to be the flag bearer and both myself and my family are delighted with it and it’s a nice way to sign off your career.’
With 48 members of Team Ireland they will compete in 10 sports with six athletes, one canoeist, eight cyclists, 14 soccer players, three sailors, four swimmers, two shooters and one table tennis player.