TWO local athletes did Ulster proud at the weekend when they skied their way to gold and silver at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea.
Rosalind Connolly (18) from Portadown and Ryan Hill (34) from Richhill were part of a 14-strong athletics team representing Ireland at the games.
Despite the competition being Rosalind’s first international event on real snow, the teenager took gold in the novice final of the Super G event, recording an impressive time and beating off stiff competition from international athletes on the slopes of PyeongChang.
She also put in a strong performance in the novice final of the Giant Slalom on Sunday, finishing in sixth place.
Ryan won the first of two silver medals in the intermediate final of the Super G event. He won his second silver in the final of the intermediate Giant Slalom event.
This is the third time Ryan has won on the world stage, having competed in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan in 2005 and Boise, Idaho in 2009.
The latest win brings the 34-year-old Armagh athlete’s medal tally to a total of seven.
Meanwhile, Lucy Best (21) from Lisburn also had an impressive international debut, winning bronze in the intermediate final of the Super G event and going on to win a second bronze in the intermediate Giant Slalom final.
The wins were the culmination of months of training and practice, with the three athletes, all members of the Ski Ability NI Club in Craigavon, going as far as Dublin to practise.
Coach Jill Sloan travelled with them to the games, having put the athletes through their paces on the dry ski slopes in Craigavon, as well as on real snow in Maurau, Austria, at the Special Olympics Snow Camp.
She said, “Rosalind, Ryan and Lucy’s medal wins are testament to their hard work, dedication and talents. I am very proud of what the three athletes have accomplished - competing for Team Ireland at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games is an incredible honour for our Ulster athletes; it has given them a unique opportunity to travel to South Korea to embrace the Olympic ideal.”
Rosalind’s mum Margaret, who is secretary of the Ski Ability NI Club, said, “Everybody is so proud of them and I would congratulate all the athletes from north and south. It lets people see that disabled children can go places and do things and not just sit in the house.”
The club meets at Craigavon Ski Slope on Monday nights from 7-8pm and has up to 48 members who attend from a wide area.
At Monday night’s meeting of Craigavon Borough Council, several councillors praised the achievements of the special Olympians and it was agreed to host a civic reception for them next week.
Mayor Carla Lockhart said, “It’s simply magnificent. They trained at our own ski slope, and we are proud and delighted to have contributed to their success - and full marks to ski instructor Jill Sloan who gave so much of her time and talents.”
The games, which take place every four years, bring together over 3,300 athletes from 112 countries. Nick Harkness, acting chief executive of Sport Northern Ireland, which supports Special Olympics Ulster, said the organisation was proud to support Team Ireland’s athletes and managers, and he congratulated Rosalind, Ryan and Lucy on their success.