May 12 - Paralympic champions Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop (pictured), two of Ireland's biggest London 2012 gold medal contenders, were the notable absentees as Paralympics Ireland unveiled its eight-strong team for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics European Championships in Staadskanal, Holland.
The competition, which takes place from June 23 until 29, is the last major Paralympic track and field event before London 2012 and it is clear that Smyth, the T13 100 and 200 metre Paralympic champion, and McKillop, the T37 800m champion, will not be risked so close to the event.
Smyth is still aiming to qualify for the Olympics in the 100m this season while McKillop already underlined his credentials for gold at the Paralympics as he ran 3min 59.54sec at the Visa London Disability Athletics Challenge this week, the London 2012 test event at the Olympic Stadium, to take a staggering 15 seconds off his own world record.
However, Ireland will still have a number of strong medal prospects in Holland with their challenge set to be spearheaded by Catherine O'Neill, the reigning F51 discus world champion who will be competing in both the club and discuss events at the Championships.
Orla Barry (pictured), who competes in the F57 discus and javelin, will also be one to look out for after setting a European record for the discuss last year and like O'Neill, she will be using the competition to finalise her preparations for the Paralympic Games.
The duo are joined by F34 discus, javelin and shot putter Ray O'Dwyer, F11 discus and shot putter Ailish Dunne, F11 discus and shot putter Nadine Lattimore, F56 javelin and shot putter Lorraine Regan, F32 shot putter Eoin Cleare and F37 shot putter James McCarthy.
The team will be led by James Nolan, Ireland's head of Paralympics athletics, who will be supported by a backroom team that includes Pat Furlong, Michael Bergin, Pamela Blanche, Stephanie Foley and Fintan O'Donnell.
"We are sending a strong team to the European Championships and there are a number of athletes travelling who will be aiming for podium finishes," said Nolan.
"For all of the team the Championships represent another great opportunity to gain further top level competition experience ahead of the Paralympic Games in September."
The event will be key for Ireland's London 2012 Paralympic preparations as they look to better their haul at Beijing 2008 which saw them claim three golds, one silver and one bronze to finish in 36th place on the medals table.
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