Friday 20 January 2017

McCurley overcomes hit-and-run to aim for Rio semis

Cycling

Barry Lennon

Published 13/08/2016 | 02:30

'I actually hated the track because it was just so scary. It was just these big steep banks. I just didn’t like it one bit' recalls Shannon McCurley. Photo: Sportsfile
'I actually hated the track because it was just so scary. It was just these big steep banks. I just didn’t like it one bit' recalls Shannon McCurley. Photo: Sportsfile

Shannon McCurley becomes the first woman to represent Ireland in Olympic track cycling today but was in her 20s before setting foot in the country.

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The 24-year-old, born to Irish parents in Australia, decided to don the green lycra to please her Belfast grandfather Harry who also lives in Melbourne.

"We've always been close, he's always just been really involved in my sport and I just listened to what he had to say in the end," she says.

"It's a family thing. My great-grandfather was a boxer in Ulster and they reckon I follow in his footsteps in being good at sport because the rest of my family aren't really that sporty."

The competition to be selected for Australia is far greater than in Ireland but that didn't make the task any easier this season.

She was the victim of a hit-and-run while out cycling last December when a car hit her back-wheel.

McCurley went over the handlebars, smashed her helmet and suffered concussion in the incident but was back on the bike within three days.

"There was a world cup to prepare for," she explains before adding that more bad luck soon followed.

"I sort of felt sick at the last world cup in Hong Kong and I ignored a little bit. I came home and went completely downhill.

"I was taken to hospital and discovered I had appendicitis and also had a couple of large cysts taken out which put me off the bike for a month."

McCurley went back to competing with stitches in her stomach and battling the worst pain she had experienced.

"I had a horrible season so I began to think Rio was off the cards. Although, Tokyo was always my goal," she says.

However, McCurley is used to tackling injury - as it was the reason she got into the sport in the first place.

The former 1,500m runner, who set a Victoria State U-10s record, was forced onto the bike to recover from a knee injury as a 12-year-old.

She first tried out two wheels in triathlon but soon found her new love, road cycling.

"I actually hated the track because it was just so scary. It was just these big steep banks. I just didn't like it one bit," she recalls.

"Then I moved to track because I started to hate hills and I was always a dominant sprinter on the roads so that translated on to the track quite well. Once I got more and more confident I began to do better times."

McCurley's event, the keirin, is a daunting prospect with cyclists brought up to speeds of 70 kmph by motorbike before it leaves the track.

Then the cyclists, who have no breaks on their bikes, battle it out for the final 800m in the velodrome.

She has long overcame her fear and says her parents Ann and Neale are also more reassured "than they were."

Although she reasons that they are now just used to it.

The goal in this afternoon's women's keirin (at 2.0pm) is to progress into the semi-finals of her first Olympics.

"Anything can happen from there, crashes, anything. That's where I hope my luck of the Irish comes in," she says.

Irish Independent

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