Three inspirational athletes from Sheffield have returned from the Special Olympics with a clutch of medals.
Niall Guite and Alexander Thompson were part of Great Britain’s gold medal-winning basketball team at the Games in Los Angeles, while Leslie Morgan claimed a silver medal in the 100m sprint and a bronze in the softball throw event.
The group competed alongside more than 6,500 other athletes with learning disabilities from around the world in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in California.
The British basketball squad defeated teams from China, Italy and Latvia on their way to securing gold.
Meanwhile, Leslie Morgan beat his personal best time in the 50m sprint by eight seconds, resulting in him being entered into the 100m event – where he missed out on gold by finishing just 0.04 seconds behind the winner.
Niall, from Millhouses and Alexander, from Fulwood, are both members of the Sheffield Lynx Basketball Club, where they are trained by the GB team coach Jazz Owen, who is from Parson Cross.
Jazz, aged 23, said she was proud of the squad’s achievements after they clinched the gold medal in unusual circumstances.
After a last-gasp win against China in the group stages to qualify for the final, the British team were due to play the Chinese again in the final – only for their opponents not to turn up.
She said the team had spent hours the night before going through videos of their previous match to prepare their tactics and were confident of getting gold.
Jazz said they were disappointed not to play the final match but delighted to be champions.
She said she was delighted with the team’s achievements on and off the court after the basketball squad were also given an additional Sportsmanship Award from Games organisers after being recognised for their teamwork and fair play.
“For some of them to go away with a new group of people was a massive step,” she said. “Two players had never been on an aeroplane before.”
She said there had been a fantastic atmosphere throughout the Games – which will be coming to Sheffield in 2017.
Niall was assisted in his medal-winning efforts by city firm Bird Opticians, who provided the 21-year-old Norton College student with a new pair of spectacles with special shatterproof lenses to wear during basketball games at the tournament.
He said: “I’m delighted to return home from LA with a gold medal. The event was an amazing experience and something I will never forget.
“I wore the special glasses in every match so I couldn’t have done it without them!”
Niall’s mother, Michelle, added: “We are all immensely proud of Niall’s achievements.
“The whole experience was amazing and it was wonderful to see the GB team treated like celebrities in LA and playing in packed-out arenas.”
The medal winners now have set their sights on competing at the 10th Special Olympics National Summer Games Sheffield in two year’s time.
Venues for the National Summer Games will include Sheffield City Trust’s Ponds Forge International Sports Centre, Hillsborough Leisure Centre and the English Institute of Sport – Sheffield, with the opening ceremony to be held at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium.
Founded in 1968, the Special Olympics were designed to ensure that those with intellectual disabilities were given equal opportunity to play competitive sport.