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Saturday 3 December 2016

Irish cyclist Shannon McCurley to play imitation game in search of Olympic glory

Published 12/08/2016 | 10:11

Irish rider Shannon McCurley will be competing at the Rio Olympic Velodrome.
Irish rider Shannon McCurley will be competing at the Rio Olympic Velodrome.

An Australia-born Irishwoman will try to imitate a Malaysian when she competes in the Keirin on Saturday's third day of action at the Olympic Velodrome.

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Shannon McCurley grew up wanting to be like Sonia O'Sullivan, the Irish middle-distance runner.

Now she wants to be like Azizulhasni Awang, her Malaysian training partner who has won world medals but is best known in Britain for being skewered by a splinter which broke off the Manchester Velodrome track in February 2011.

McCurley, whose parents are from Dublin and Belfast, said: "I grew up as an 800, 1500 metres runner, so for me Sonia O'Sullivan was someone I looked up to. As a kid she was always someone I wanted to be."

And then comes Awang, who is smaller than the rest of the field in the rough and tumble Keirin but often gets results by finding gaps others dare not enter. He also celebrates wins with a wheelie over the line.

"He's one of my training partners. I pretty much idolise him," added McCurley, who, like Awang, is coached by Australian John Beasley.

"Everything he does I try to imitate. I've been practising (the wheelie).

"With a few more years under my belt, I want to achieve what he has."

The Keirin, which begins behind a motor-paced Derny bike, can be physical, but McCurley will not be backing down.

"I would have to be the smallest rider in the field, which isn't always great," the 24-year-old added.

"I've got a pretty tough attitude that I'll never back out. If someone leans on me I'll push back hard.

"My best result at a World Cup was 13th, but I'm going a lot stronger now.

"I had a pretty bad season with injuries, crashes, I got hit by a car out training.

"It wasn't the smoothest run for me this season, but hopefully I'm going really well now.

"My preparation's been almost perfect (but) it can be a bit of a lottery."

She might have competed for Australia, but opted for Ireland, despite a dislike of Guinness.

"My Granddad was a big support in going for Ireland," she added.

"I'm first generation born in Australia. All my family's Irish, so keeping it in the family. All my relatives and everything are born in Ireland."

Martyn Irvine and Caroline Ryan have achieved world podium places in recent years.

But Irvine, who competed at London 2012 in the omnium, retired after a challenging build-up to Rio and McCurley is Ireland's sole entrant on the track.

"It is a bit upsetting that we didn't get more, but we're happy to get one," she added.

McCurley rarely sees winter. She spends the European winter in Australia and summer in Majorca, where Ireland are based as there is still no Olympic-standard velodrome in Ireland.

McCurley's big aim is Toyko 2020.

She added: "It was always my goal. That's when I'll be at peak form. I'll be at the right age.

"I've only been doing Keirin racing for two years. I just seem to be getting stronger, better and more adapted to sprint racing.

"Tokyo will be 100 per cent my goal."

But she knows the Keirin is unpredictable.

"Anything can happen," she said.

"I just want to get through the first round and just see what happens from there."

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