FINGAL'S paralympians are counting down to the biggest week in their sporting lives with just hours to go until the London 2012 Games official opening.
Teenager Heather Jameson from Garristown and Swords woman Catherine Walsh, a reigning world cycling champion, will proudly take their place in the Irish team at the Games which opens tomorrow evening ( Wednesday) in front a sell-out 80,000 crowd at Olympic Park in Stratford. There is another Fingal connection with Portmarnock native Liam Harbison, the CEO of Paralympics Ireland, as the team's chef de mission in London. Liam has been involved in Paralympic sport since 1996.
As Performance Director for the Paralympic Council of Ireland, he developed a highperformance system which paved the way for Irish success at Beijing 2008. He became the organisation's first CEO later that year Fifteen-year-old Heather, the youngest member of the London contingent, will compete the 100m, 200m and long jump events during the Games, while Catherine will make her sixth Olympic appearance, contesting a number of cycling events both at the Olympic Velodrome and Brands Hatch over the next week.
Heather, a pupil at Ashbourne Community School, will take her Olympic bow in the long jump on Friday, before competing in the 100m on Sunday and the 200m the following Wednesday. Catherine will make her first appearance in this year's Olympics on Friday when she competes in the 1km individual time trial in the velodrome. She was then contest the individual pursuit qualifier on Sunday, following by the individual time trial at Brands Hatch on Wednesday, before completing her schedule in the individual road race on Saturday, September 8. 2011 has been a busy year for Heather, who has cerebral palsy, as she strove to qualify for London.
In April, Heather ran the Paralympic ' A' standard for the 100m when she won the Leinster Championship at Santry Stadium, breaking a 24-year-old Irish record. In May, Heather shaved some more time off her record at the CP Sport Grand Prix in Gateshead and a week later at the London Disability Test Event, secured the ' A' standard time for the 200m with her time of 31.80. Her impressive progress continued at May's Turin Invitational Meet, where she ran her fastest 100m yet, clocking a time of 15.13 seconds. Heather qualified for the long jump with her leap of 3.90m at this year's World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic.
On her return from London, she will study for her Junior Cert next year. Visually impaired Catherine, who celebrated her 39th birthday last Thursday, has experienced success as a track and field athlete in five previous Paralympic Games between 1992 and 2004, winning bronze in the pentathlon at Sydney 2000. In 2007, she changed sport to tandem cycling and made her mark quickly enough to gain selection to Beijing 2008. Catherine became Ireland's first paracycling medal winner when powering to silver at the 2009 World Track Championships with sighted pilot Fran Meehan.
With subsequent bronze medals at both UCI World Championships in 2011 (Track and Road) and a sensational gold in the 3km Individual Pursuit at February's World Track Championships in LA, the pair will be among the favourites at London 2012. A total of 49 athletes across 10 sports will travel to London as part of the Irish contingent will march into the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday night.