Connolly, age 25, achieved the difficult Olympic standard in the Skeleton discipline, an event in which Ireland’s Clifton Wrottesley missed out on a medal by a fraction of a second in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
He joins top skiers Kirsty McGarry (Dublin), Thos Foley (Kerry) and Rory Morrish (Cork) in Turin where Ireland will be one of 75 nations seeking Olympic honours. Over 2,500 athletes will be competing in 15 winter sports in eleven major centres in the city and the surrounding Piedmont alpine region from February 10th to 26th.
Announcing the team, Olympic Council of Ireland president Pat Hickey said that the small, but select, squad would represent Ireland with pride, passion and total commitment. “For a non-alpine nation, Ireland’s growing stature in winter sports is remarkable and one in which we have an excellent sporting future. More and more Irish people are taking winter sports holidays and this has fuelled the interest in a major way,” he commented.
Mr. Hickey paid tribute to the sterling efforts of those who made the team and to those who didn’t achieve qualification. “The Hoey sisters, Siobhan and Aoife from Portarlington, are currently just outside the qualification mark for the Womens Bobsleigh event. They’ve put in a huge effort over the past year and have finished ranked 16th on the Olympic list, the first 15 of whom gain entry to the Games. They are now relying on a fall-out from a crew ahead of them to get a place. It must be heartbreaking for them to be in this position but, even if they don’t make it, they can hold their heads high for a very valiant and brave effort”
Stephen Martin, the newly appointed chief executive of the Olympic Council, commented “We plan to build on the competitive experience of Turin in order to develop a more diverse squad for the Vancouver Winter Olympics of 2010. We have already had preliminary meetings with the Irish Sports Council to develop a strategy for identifying and funding a small focused group of winter athletes. For instance, we hope for Vancouver to add qualifiers in disciplines such as curling, snowboarding, bob skeleton and even ice skating”
The Irish athletes for Turin are all Olympic first-timers and will be managed by Clifton Wrottesley (chef de mission) who brings huge experience from his previous Olympic and World Cup exploits for Ireland.
The Opening Ceremony of the Games will take place in the Olympic Stadium (former home of Juventus FC), Turin, on Friday February 10th.
The Irish flag bearer will be downhill skier Kirsty McGarry (age 20) from Dalkey, Co. Dublin. She follows in the tracks of her sister Tamsin who was the first woman to represent Ireland at a Winter Olympics and who was the Irish flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics of 2002.