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Sun begins to rise on Tokyo

James Nolan is the head of Para Athletics with Paralympics Ireland, where he is currently plotting the journey for the Irish Para Athletics team towards Tokyo 2020

Nolan knows more than most about what it takes to qualify and perform at a major championship having competed at the Olympic Games himself in 2000 and 2004, along with leading the para athletics squad to three Paralympics Games.
The Irish Paralympics squad had a particularly successful year in 2018, producing a stunning display at the European Para Athletics Championships in Berlin this August. Jason Smyth, Orla Comerford, Greta Streimikyte, Orla Barry, Noelle Lenihan, Jordan Lee and Niamh McCarthy all claimed European medals for Ireland in a superb week for Irish Paralympics sports, with Smyth and Comerford taking two each.
“We knew we wanted to go to Berlin and perform and I certainly felt that we had a team that could perform well,” said Nolan, who saw his team climb the podium on nine separate occasions that week. Despite the success, Nolan is quick to temper the expectations surrounding his team. “This was a European Championships and those medals are hard to win and hard earned. However, this is one stop on a journey that will end in Tokyo for some but maybe in Paris or Los Angeles for others. In 2019, we will compete at the World Championships and that is a step up from the Europeans and then, in 2020, it’s another step up to Paralympic Games’ standards. So, we are under no illusions, winning at the European’s was great but everyone still needs to be looking to make those improvements, nobody is guaranteed a place on the plane to Tokyo, never mind winning medals.”

Peaking late
The focus for 2019 will very much be the World Championships, taking place in Dubai from November 7-15. Each athlete has mapped out their year to peak at those championships, which are taking place unusually late in the year. “It is going to be a different experience for the athletes that are looking to compete at the World’s, they are used to that event taking place earlier in the year, during the summer, this presents a new challenge for us as we have to make sure that we have our team prepared as well as possible but that those preparations don’t impact on our Tokyo plans, which will be less than 10 months later.”

Paralympics Ireland medalists: Niamh McCarthy, Orla Comerford, Greta Streimikyte, Jason Smyth, Lee Jordan, Orla Barry and Noelle Lenihan, following the 2018 World Para Athletics European Championships at Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark in Berlin, Germany.

Patrick Monahan of Ireland, along with team leader James Nolan, after completing the T54 Men’s Marathon at Fort Copacabana during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Orla Comerford competing in the Women’s T13, 100m during the 2018 World Para Athletics European Championships at Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark in Berlin, Germany.

A new wave
Paralympics Ireland is in the fortunate position of being able to call on some true Paralympics legends like Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop, Orla Barry and other excellent athletes but there is always an eye on the future. Nolan and the high-performance team in Paralympics Ireland are keen to identify and assist the next wave of Paralympics stars.
Nolan has a clear idea of where some of those stars might come from. “There are some exceptional athletics clubs throughout the country that are helping to produce some quality performers. What might happen though is that some of those talented athletes are slipping through the net and that is a massive shame. If you look at the European Championships, we had the likes of Orla Comerford and Greta Streimikyte who both won medals in Berlin and they both had a huge amount of development under their belts with their athletics clubs, they were almost competition ready when they joined our panel, which is why their progress has been so quick.”
Paralympics Ireland has urged Athletics clubs to get in touch directly if they feel that there is somebody in their ranks that could potentially be a future Paralympian, which is something that Nolan is very positive about. “I think that there are actually quite a few athletes out there that aren’t even aware that they are eligible as para athletes. Particularly, there would be some people with a mild visual impairment or a mild form of cerebral palsy who didn’t realise that they are eligible as para athletes or that they would have great potential in para athletics. I would recommend any coach that has somebody with an impairment in their club to get in touch through This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will happily help that athlete through the classification process. Not everyone is going to be a medallist but, if there is a demonstrable talent there and we can see potential, we will be keen to work with those athletes.”
Classification is the process that aims to determine who is eligible to compete in Paralympic Sport and groups eligible athletes into sport classes according to their activity limitation in a certain sport. There are 10 types of eligible impairment that are detailed on the Paralympics Ireland website. Once the classification process has been completed, the expert coaches in the Paralympics Ireland high-performance department will help athletes that have shown potential to compete at the highest level to fulfil that potential.
Paralympics Ireland can be contacted through 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on +353 1 625 1175.

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