A party of 34 Hebridean athletes will jet off from Stornoway for Gibraltar this Saturday to fly the flag for the Western Isles at the NatWest International Island Games.
It will be the eighth time the Western Isles has competed at the biennial multi-sports event, and Hebrideans will be represented in five sports – athletics, badminton, cycling, shooting and swimming.
The Western Isles squad is smaller than in previous years, because football and golf are not part of this year’s games programme, while the multi-medal-winning mountain biking sisters Kerry and Kirsty MacPhee are also absent from the party this time around with cycling events restricted to the road only.
In athletics, one of the stars of the last games – the surprise teenage triple jump gold medallist from Eriskay, Heather MacKinnon – returns to defend her title. Eve Carrington, who has won several medals in various track and field disciplines, will be competing in her eighth games.
Stornoway runner Connor Maclean – who missed out on the last games in Gotland through injury – is a medal hope in the 1,500 and 5,000 metres, while team-mate Michael MacMillan is another middle-distance specialist with designs on the podium.
In the swimming pool Kara Hanlon, who first competed in the games as a 14-year-old in the Isle of Wight in 2011, will aim to secure more success having won three golds in Gotland in 2017 to add to her maiden triumph in Jersey in 2015.
Donald Walker, who won a bronze in 2015, is again part of a five-strong shooting team while a badminton squad will compete for the first time as efforts continue to rejuvenate the sport which was once very popular throughout the region.
This week the Western Isles Island Games Association’s main sponsor, the Scottish Salmon Company, presented the WIIGA squad with their kit for the games.
All the kit has been received and packed, and the realisation that the games are upon us is really kicking in. It is always a proud moment for the athletes trying on the Western Isles kit, especially so for the 15 athletes who be wearing it for the first time.
Speaking ahead of the games, Craig Anderson, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Company, said: “With just a few days to go until the start of the games, the arrival of the WIIGA team kit is another exciting milestone for the athletes as they prepare to travel to Gibraltar.
“We are proud to be sponsoring WIIGA for the fifth consecutive year and wish all the athletes taking part the best of luck.”
Norrie MacDonald, the WIIGA chair, said: “The kit looks fantastic and provides a real feeling of identity for the athletes. We are so grateful to the Scottish Salmon Company for their continued sponsorship of the association.
“All our athletes have worked incredibly hard to prepare for their events. The NatWest International Island Games is a major international event with many Commonwealth Games athletes and also some Olympians competing. It is an incredible experience for all those taking part and we can’t wait to get out to Gibraltar.”
As well as the tremendous support WIIGA receives from main sponsor SSC, many of the sports teams have received financial support from local businesses and organisations and sincere thanks are due to them. To date the following have given support: Harris Tweed Hebrides; Ishga; R Doig (Optician); MG Alba; Engebret Ltd; Lewis Builders; Horshader Community Development; Macaulay Askernish; Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; Lewis Wind Power; Nick Oppenheim; Uist and Barra and Lewis and Harris sports councils.
The full squad is made up of 34 athletes; eight team managers/coaches (four of whom are also registered to compete); two medical team members; and three WIIGA management personnel.
The competing squad contains 19 females and 15 males, with the youngest two competitors just 14 years old.