Friday 30 September 2016

Hand-cyclist Ciara Staunton tempers hopes of adding to Irish medal haul in Rio

Barry Lennon

Published 15/09/2016 | 11:07

14 September 2016; Ciara Staunton of Ireland in action during the Women's Time Trial H1-2-3 at the Pontal Cycling Road during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
14 September 2016; Ciara Staunton of Ireland in action during the Women's Time Trial H1-2-3 at the Pontal Cycling Road during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Hand-cyclist Ciara Staunton cast doubt on her chances of adding to Ireland’s Paralympic medal haul after her classification was merged with “stronger” groups.

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A lack of athletes has forced the Wicklow woman’s grouping to be combined for the H2-4 cycling tournament, which sees competitors take part in a 46km road race today.

The change hampers her ability to follow up yesterday’s heroics seeing Eoghan Clifford, Katie-George Dunlevy, Eve McCrystal and Colin Lynch pick up two golds and one silver on the bike.

“The possibility of a medal is quite difficult because you're up against people with more function,” Staunton said.

“I know there’s not many women involved. I've travelled throughout the year now and it's rare that I come up against more than two women in my category.

“It (too few competitors) has stopped people doing the sport as well. I've gone through athletics, swimming and stuff like that, got classifications and know that there’s no point because there isn’t the same competition.”

The absence of female cyclists has impacted on Staunton’s warm-up for this afternoon’s race in Rio with her preparation “not as in depth” as she would like.

As a result Staunton said she would focus on getting a good time in yesterday’s time trial stage in which her 45:28.69 time saw her finish last.

A silver lining was that the time was in range of her previously stated goal of “hitting 50 minutes or less.”

Staunton gave up representing Ireland in wheelchair rugby to realise her Paralympic dream through cycling but it’s not the first time she has had to give up a sport.

The 30-year-old ended up in a wheelchair after a tree fell on her car one stormy night in 2006, leaving her paralysed from the neck down.

“My boyfriend at the time was driving and the last thing I remember was just telling him to watch a few puddles and then I woke up in the hospital,” she recalled.

The accident put an end to her competitive swimming hopes, with the mental struggle to return a sport she once excelled in too difficult.   

“That's something that comes with acquiring a disability as opposed to being born. You kind of know what you're missing out on. It's harder to deal with in that way,” she said. 

Staunton believes attitudes to disabled people are improving, having previously described “the ah bless brigade” who “congratulate you for getting out of the house.”

“Awareness around disability is getting better. Hopefully, if things are getting better it changes people’s perception,” she reflected.

“London 2012 pushed forward the whole thing. The ‘ah-bless brigade’ is more of an older generation. Younger people are more knowledgeable and more respectful.”

However, these thoughts are likely to be to the back of her mind as she focuses on making a good time at 4.20pm.

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