There was a capacity 25,000 crowd at the opening ceremony of the inaugural Special Olympics Asia-Pacific Games at Newcastle’s Hunter Stadium on December 1 followed by a week of sport featuring 2500 athletes with an intellectual disability from 32 countries — and Josh Paine-Bell enjoyed every second of it.
The Blue Mountains-Nepean Special Olympics (BMNSO) region representative swimmer finished the Games with four medals, some new friends and many memorable experiences.
In a close contest, Paine-Bell won a gold medal in the men’s division two 100m backstroke — his favourite event — finishing just 3.03 seconds in front of fellow Australian Zac Telfer and 14.55 seconds ahead of Io Hou Chan from Macau.
He also won a silver medal in the 100m individual medley (finishing 11.86 seconds behind Hong Kong’s Jung Cheong Chow), and bronze medals in the 100m freestyle (won by India’s Mir Faidh Hussain) and 4x50m medley relay (won by Korea).
When asked what his Games highlights were, the 16-year-old told the Gazette “it was very exciting to march in the stadium” and watch the fireworks and lighting of the flame during the opening ceremony, watch Human Nature perform and be with his teammates at the closing ceremony.
“My mum and dad came and lots more of the family too,” he said.
“But the best part was getting the medals!”
Paine-Bell’s coach for the past six years, Gwen Phillips from World of Swimming in Penrith, described him as “an always happy person” who was very attentive at training and would put in his full effort.
“Josh did really well at the Games and he deserves everything he gets,” Mrs Phillips said.
“He listens to what I have to say at training, he takes it on board and he has a very smooth swimming stroke.”
BMNSO sports co-ordinator Allan Vleeskens said Paine-Bell was now an experienced swimmer who came from a sporty family.
“Josh is a very good swimmer and he looks very natural in the water,” Mr Vleeskens said.
“It always seems he steps up at the big events.”
Paine-Bell, from Glenmore Park, qualified for the Games after winning gold at the national championships held in Canberra in April, where BMNSO athlete and Winmalee resident Josh Elston also did well, winning one silver and three bronze medals.