Wednesday 25 January 2017

Pain game pays rich dividends for brave Clifford

Cathal Dennehy

Published 15/09/2016 | 02:30

Eoghan Clifford celebrates his gold finish in the Men's C3 Time Trial. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Eoghan Clifford celebrates his gold finish in the Men's C3 Time Trial. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

On Tuesday afternoon, weighed down by a chronic, crying pain in his knee that refused to leave him be, Eoghan Clifford figured he was just about done with life as a cyclist.

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The 36-year-old had already won a Paralympic bronze medal here in Rio - in the C3 individual pursuit last Friday - but ahead of yesterday's 30km time trial, that screeching complaint from his knee was putting his mind into meltdown.

"I had a rant at my coach," said Clifford. "I told him I wanted to throw the bike into the sea. Luckily, he stopped me.

"I rang my wife and told her I don't want any more of this, but in truth I was always going to make the start line."

Good thing he did, because from the moment he charged down the starting ramp yesterday, began whirring his legs with a power unfathomable to his rivals, it was clear that Clifford simply had to stay upright to take gold.

That he did, by a whopping margin, his time of 38:21.79 leaving him with 69 seconds clear of silver medallist Masaki Jita of Japan.

His supremacy was such that the temptation was to call it facile, but that would do an injustice not just to his effort, but to his whole approach to sport.

"Cyclists will always suffer," he said. "It's a sport where you suffer a lot, but I suffered more because of the injury. I was a bit angry today, not happy with the result earlier in the week. I wanted to prove I could do this."

Clifford, who competes in the C3 category due to having a degenerative muscle disease, was a latecomer to Paralympic sport, but the gold proved just reward for a man who's spent the last 15 years perfecting his craft.

Earlier this year, while his wife was giving birth, Clifford was flying over Siberia en route to a training camp. This journey taken a lot, but now it has finally given back.

He's not old, not yet, but he's been around the block enough to know this will be his first and last Paralympic Games.

"With injuries and everything, I might have one more year," he said, "but for sure I won't be in Tokyo (2020)."

Either way, it's been quite the ride.

Irish Independent

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