TWO-TIME Olympian and former European Indoor silver medallist James Nolan headed off to another world championship yesterday -- but this time in a very different role.
Nolan is travelling as the Irish team manager for the Paralympic World T&F Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand from January 21-30.
And though double Paralympic champion Jason Smyth is absent because of injury, Nolan says Ireland still have serious medal prospects, particularly Michael McKillop who, like Smyth, took gold at 800m in his category (T37) at the last Paralympics.
Smyth created worldwide headlines last summer when he became the first Paralympian to compete at the European Championships, where he reached the 100m semi-finals.
Like Smyth, McKillop (20), from Newtonabbey, who has a mild form of cerebral palsy, is a former Irish schools medallist on the track. He is also a former national junior cross-country champion, and, again like Smyth, is now training full-time and spent the past two months in South Africa.
McKillop won gold at the 2006 world championships and then set a Paralympic record of 1:59.39 in Beijing two years later. He has since lowered his 800m PB to 1:57.30.
"Michael and Jason have already demonstrated nationally that paralympic athletes can not only compete in able-bodied competitions but win them," Nolan said. "To see Jason beating an athlete like Francis Obikwelu in Barcelona last summer was amazing and really shows the elite level that these athletes are working at.
"Before I got involved with them last year I was probably like a lot of people and didn't really appreciate the level they're training at.
"We have a team of eight who are a good blend a mixture of experience and youth. Gareth Culliton, Catherine Wayland and Rosemary Tallon are seasoned internationals with plenty of experience, as have Michael and Orla Barry. And then we've got three young throwers -- Ray O'Dwyer, Ailish Dunne and Nadine Lattimore -- all in the visually impaired category, who we feel will benefit from this competition, especially in relation to London 2012.
"It's a small team, but we feel that we could pick up two medals and even possibly a third."
Tullamore man Nolan, whose 1:46.05/ 3:35.69/3:54.62 personal bests still rank him in the all-time Irish top 10 at 800m, 1500m and the mile, is no longer competing internationally, but he is still passionate about athletics.
He is now the athletics director for his alma mater UCD and also runs his own expanding underage programme for young children called 'Fast Kids.'