Star-studded line up as Sport Relief challenge comes to town

SPORTS stars including former world champion boxer Joe Calzaghe, Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Chris Boardman and record-setting yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur will race in to Larne next week as part of the biggest event to be staged for Sport Relief.

Celebrities Gemma Atkinson, Craig Doyle and Katy Hill will also be welcomed to the town by Mayor Bobby McKee when they compete in the DHL-sponsored First Nation Home Challenge. Teams representing Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales will sail, run, row and cycle over 1,000 miles around the UK and Ireland in the biggest Sport Relief challenge to date.

The teams will start simultaneously in Dublin, London, Edinburgh and Cardiff and make their way clockwise around Britain and Ireland between March 10-17.

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The Ireland team, skippered by TV presenter Doyle, will be first in to Larne this Saturday (March 10) at the end of a bike ride all the way from Dublin.

They are expected in town at around 4pm and local schools, community groups and sports clubs have been urged to turn out to cheer on the competitors, who will ditch their bikes and run from the Coast Road path to the promenade adjacent to Chaine Park.

The last leg is a run along the promenade itself to the Chaine Memorial Tower, where the mayor will be waiting to present a borough plaque and invite the participants to a reception at the leisure centre.

On Sunday morning, at around 9.30am, the Irish team will depart by yacht from Larne Harbour and sail to Stranraer.

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Presenter Gethin Jones and the Wales team are scheduled to arrive in Larne on Monday 12th; England – led by former rugby international Josh Lewsey – on Tuesday 13; and another former rugby star, Scotland skipper Thom Evans, and his team get here on Thursday 15.

All teams are due at around 4pm and set off for Scotland on the morning after arrival.

At their monthly meeting on Monday, Larne councillors pledged local authority support for the event, including the reception in the leisure centre.

P&O Ferries and Port of Larne are gearing up to welcome the teams to the ferry terminal. Arthur Murphy, business development marketing manager, said: “We are delighted to be supporting Sport Relief and the First Nation Home Challenge and are getting ready for a very busy week as we welcome some of the biggest celebrities to P&O’s ferry terminal.”

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The Ireland team features rugby great Paddy Johns, athlete Sonia O’Sullivan, TV gardener Diarmuid Gavin and cyclist Joe Barr. The likes of Gareth Thomas, Iwan Thomas, Richard Parks and Matthew Page turn out for Wales.

Rugby World Cup winner Phil Vickery is on the England team with Phil Spencer and Martin Corry and the Scots include TV presenter Andrea MacLean and rugby legends Kenny Logan and Scott Hastings.