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'I feel like I'm in heaven' as 88 Irish hopefuls enter stadium to chants of 'Ole, Ole, Ole'

THREE Irish swimmers have claimed the country's first medals at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.

The Uytengsu Aquatics Centre was a sea of green on a triumphant Day One of the Games for Sean Coleman, Dubliner Gary McEnroe and Sarah Jane Johnston who between them collected a silver and two bronze medals. Coleman (22) from Youghal in Cork took silver in the 25-metre backstroke race.

Earlier in the day Sarah Jane Johnston (35) from Lurgan, Co Armagh, was the first Irish athlete to claim a medal when she finished third in the 100-metre backstroke.

Then Gary McEnroe (24), from Tallaght in Dublin, completed the trio of medals in his 25-metre backstroke competition.

Up to 300 Irish spectators at the venue in the University of Southern California far outnumbered visitors from any other country.


Head Aquatics Coach with Team Ireland Jenny Hughes told the Herald that they only ever hoped for the three athletes "to swim their hearts out".

"The medals are a bonus," she said.

Commenting on the huge Irish crowd who cheered on the athletes the Dublin volunteer said: "We are possibly the loudest, noisiest delegation that there is at the Games."

It was the first time at the Games for all three - they will compete together later in the week as part of a relay team.

Several other athletes recorded personal bests on a day when the 11-a-side soccer team, who have been coached by LA Galaxy and Ireland star Robbie Keane, drew nil-all with Great Britain.

Last night Robbie's wife Claudine, actor Colin Farrell and athlete John Treacy led out the 88 Irish athletes taking part in the epic Games.

As chants of 'Ole, Ole' broke out, stewards struggled to contain the excitement in the stadium.

"I feel like I'm in heaven," Donal O'Mahoney from Wicklow said.

He wasn't alone. Tim Shriver, son of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, tried to sum it up.

"Athletes, this is your moment. This is your time. All around the world the wind is at your back," he said.

Then musician Stevie Wonder told the crowd: "You are the ones that will make a difference every single day" before performing Fear Can't Put Dreams to Sleep.

By the time the singing and dancing was done, Michelle Obama declared the Games officially open.

"My husband and I are so incredibly proud of you and we love you all from the bottoms of our hearts," she said.