IN SWELTERING heat and drenching humidity Gary O’Reilly secured a bronze medal for Ireland in the men’s H5 time trial at the Fuji International Speedway.
The Portlaoise hand-cyclist set 39:36.46 to take third place in a hard fought event around the famous motor racing circuit in the rolling foothills below Mount Fuji.
Dutch rider Mitch Valize took the win with 38:12.94 while French rider 39:15.16 took silver.
It was a difficult race with the early stages of the Time Trial seeing Gary lose time as the splits came in but he worked through each pedal revolution and clawed back onto the podium as the kilometres ticked by to give Ireland it’s latest medal.
At the finish Gary spoke to Cycling Ireland in a state of shock and dedicated it to the people at home.
“I’m completely shocked to be honest – didn’t expect to get the medal. I’m just absolutely delighted. I am so happy to have done it for everyone at home – I did for them. All my family, my wife to be Hazel, are up watching it, I’m sure they’re as happy as I am,” he said.
Gary talked us through the race, which saw him doubt his own performance but with the help of his coach he settled and succeeded in his dream to medal.
“I think I was 20 seconds down on podium on first lap but I had Neill (Delahaye – coach) in my ear telling me to stick to the plan. I realised we just needed to stay with the plan, I came back up on time then with the second lap - started putting time into then. Thankfully it worked,” he said.
Gary explained the difficult weather and the impact on his ability to perform.
“There are really difficult conditions here, push through our (heart and power) zones and then recover on the downhill. The climate might have caught people out, it is very humid and hot. It was all about a real pacing strategy race today – so that you don’t burn up too quickly,” he added.
The sacrifices of the athletes are a constant theme here at the Paralympic Games in Japan and Gary explained how that has affected him.
“As my friends all know, I don’t get to spend as much time with them – like when they’re going out for a pint. You don’t get to go out so you spend a lot of time in the room at home alone on a turbo trainer for four or five hours on a turbo trainer. It is all worth it on a day like today,” he said.
Gary will line out in the road race tomorrow morning and he is anxious to recover as he pursues his second medal of the Games.
“Just want to go in and try and recover as best I can. We’re up early in the morning, so I’ll try and stick with it and do my best and see what happens at the end of the race. Thanks so much for the support at home, family and friends have all been amazing. I just had to turn off my phone because it was bouncing. I’ll get back to everyone soon enough and I just want to thank my sponsors Midland Steel for all their support,” he said.
Gary will start tomorrow morning, 1 September, again at the Fuji International Speedway course between 1.30am and 3.38am Irish time.
Miriam Malone, CEO of Paralympics Ireland, was track side and celebrated with the cycling team as they realised Gary's result.
"I'm absolutely delighted, thrilled for him to get bronze, he put so much hard work in. We've had a really successful games, with cycling with Katie and Eve - of course our swimmers and Jason Smyth in Athletics - it has been great. I'd just want to thank all the people at home for their support - keep it up and we'll try our best to get more medals," she said.