Derry’s sporting heroes will be honoured next week with a special Olympic Parade which will welcome the Olympic Torch to the city.
On Monday, local boxing legend Charlie Nash will be joined by the family of swimming star Liam Ball, to lead a colourful flag parade across the Peace Bridge into the St Columb’s Park Stadium where the Olympic Torch will light the city’s flame as part of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.
The stars were among a four-strong team of Derry Olympians who took part in the 1972 games in Munich.
Monday’s event is the culmination of a series of exciting events taking place throughout the Bank Holiday Weekend as part of Derry City Council’s Big Flame Festival.
Olympic Boxer Charlie Nash made it through to the Olympic quarter-finals in the lightweight boxing division, just losing out to the eventual gold medallist. He went on to become a professional, winning the British and European lightweight titles on two occasions. Since then he has played a leading role in local boxing circles, coaching at the Ring Boxing Club in the city for more than 30 years.
Speaking ahead of the parade, he recalled heading off to Munich as an unassuming teenager and the impact it has had on his life since.
“I have really fond memories of participating in the Olympics and I never thought all those years ago when I was competing that I would still be involved forty years down the line, both with the Olympics and the sport as well,” he says.
“I had the opportunity to go to Munich as a 19-year-old and it was a great experience for me, winning two fights and getting to the quarter finals. I grew up in Creggan, where I was a member of the local St. Mary’s Boxing Club, and I think I surprised quite a few people getting that far - including myself - and I’ve been involved in the sport ever since.”
Charlie is now adamant that more youngsters should get involved in sport. “It’s so important for young people to take an interest in sport, as it really aids their development both physically and mentally,” he stresses. “The discipline they learn from it is unbelievable, and I’ve seen the results for myself over the years training at the Ring. It’s good to see young people who have spent their lives in boxing growing up and becoming a real credit to their families, and sport plays such an important role in that.
“It’s great for the city to be involved in this event and I’m so proud to be leading the parade because of all that it represents.”
Local sporting hero Liam Ball competed in two Olympic events, swimming in the Men’s 100 metres Breaststroke and Men’s 200 metres in Mexico 1968 and Munich 1972.
His daughter, Lianne, who will take part in Monday’s parade along with Liam’s sister and wife, who also competed in the Olympics, said she thought it was a fitting way to remember her late father’s sporting achievements.
“It really is a great honour for my family to be involved in some way with the Olympic celebrations this year, as we have such a connection with the event,” she explained. “My dad swam in 1968 and 1972 and my mother also took part in the same games, so there are plenty of happy memories of the Olympics in our family.
“It’s so motivational for young people to get involved in sport and to have sporting heroes to look up to. Even my own son, Joe, is always reminded of what his grandfather achieved and it’s a great legacy for him. I think it gives young people more of a focus in their lives to become involved in sport, and I hope this event encourages more of them to just go out there and get involved.”
The parade leaves Derry City Council offices carpark on the Strand Road on Monday June 4 at 4pm, before travelling along the new public realm at Queen’s Quay, across the Peace Bridge and into St Columb’s Park Stadium. A special evening of entertainment will begin at 5pm before the arrival of the Olympic Torch.
Entry is by ticket only, and tickets are available free from the Millennium Forum Box Office on 02871 264455.
Anyone who wishes to participate in the festival parade, or for further information on the event, should contact North West Carnival Initiative on Tel: 02871 365151.