Tuesday 12 December 2017

Comerford has grand designs in store for Worlds test

Orla Comerford has grown in confidence ahead of the World Para-Athletics Championships. Photo: Sportsfile
Orla Comerford has grown in confidence ahead of the World Para-Athletics Championships. Photo: Sportsfile
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

It is just 10 months since Orla Comerford made her impressive Paralympics debut in Brazil and the young runner from Raheny Shamrock AC has continued to break barriers since, on and off the track.

She only turned 19 while in Rio where she reached the T13 100m final and, since then, the visually-impaired sprinter has fulfilled another life ambition by getting accepted to art college.

Last year she had a "crazy summer" between completing her Leaving Cert and competing in the Paralympics.

Now she has finished her first year at NCAD where she is studying Fine Art, Media and Education and is ready for her first para-athletics' World Championships, which begin in London's Olympic Stadium on Friday morning.

The Howth teenager only started to suffer from Stargadt's disease, a genetic condition affecting the retina and damaging central vision (which Jason Smyth also suffers from), when she was 11, yet has not let it stop her fulfilling any of her dreams.

Art may not seem an obvious career choice for someone who is visually impaired but it is her other big passion in life.

"As an art student, my sight gives me challenges, just like it does with anything else in life," Comerford says.

"Once I run into them I just find a way around them, I just work things out.

"The college is really good to me. If I tell them, 'This is just not working for me' they'll be like, 'OK, find your own way.' So then I'll explain what I can do and they work with me."

Comerford has also made significant sporting progress since Rio where she ran her Paralympic personal best of 12.81 en route to the T13 100m final.

She ran a 12.55 personal best at the AAI Games in May and says the confidence she gleaned from Rio has helped considerably.

"I was probably a disappointed with my running and working with an injury but the experience was really good and will stand to me. After racing in the Paralympics I won't be nervous in London," she adds.

Ukraine's champion Leilia Adzhametova and South African silver medallist Lisa Hayes both ran sub-12 in Brazil so everyone else in Monday's T13 100m final (8.10pm) will probably be racing for bronze.

Comerford is part of a 10-strong Irish team at these hugely anticipated World Championships for which a whopping 350,000 tickets have already been pre-sold. Ireland won five medals in Rio and that would surely have been more if global superstars Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop both hadn't seen one of their events removed from the Paralympic programme.

Smyth hasn't competed at 200m at this level since 2013 but he's the defending T13 100m champion and, like McKillop (the reigning champion in T37/38 800m/1,500m from 2015), returns to the site of his 2012 Paralympic glory looking for double gold again.

Both should feature in their first finals on Sunday night at 9.06 and 9.15pm respectively.

Ireland's brilliant para-discus throwers - Orla Barry, Niamh McCarthy and Noelle Lenihan - who landed a 'Rebel treble' of Paralympic medals in 2016, are also expected to make the podium.

McCarthy (F41 discus) and Barry (F57 discus) both won silver in Rio and have previously won medals at the Worlds and have straight finals on Saturday at 10.0am and 7.0pm respectively.

Milford teenager Lenihan, who took Paralympic bronze in F38 discus, only sat her Leaving Cert this summer and competes tomorrow week.

Galway shot putter Deirdre Mongan, who won F53 bronze at the Worlds in 2015, competes on Saturday week and the team also includes Meath sprinter Paul Keogan and Kildare's Pat Monahan, Ireland's top wheelchair racer who, with no marathon on the programme, has had to drop down in distance (to 800m/1500m) and will be hoping to start by making Sunday's T54 1,500m final (9.45pm).

Irish Independent

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