Saturday 25 November 2017

David Gillick: Ireland's two-time European indoor champion

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

CONTRARY to expectation, the man sitting opposite me is not a gibbering wreck. David Gillick (28) is pretty animated and emitting a few groans, but only because he is relating how he watched his gaelic football club Ballinteer St John's lose a league game to O'Toole's the previous night -- despite being five points and a man up.

You are, frankly, expecting him to be a bit of a basket case.

Ireland's two-time European indoor champion was also sixth in the 400m final at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, a phenomenal achievement by an Irish athlete in the most vomit-inducing of sprint events.

It is just two days since an injury-wracked prelude forced him to announce that he is skipping this summer's 'Worlds' and the rest of the season, in a dramatic bid to recover his top form for next summer's Olympic Games.

Gillick's decision to move back to his old coach Nick Dakin in Loughborough is also a tacit admission that his gamble on moving to Florida this year to train alongside the world's second-fastest man -- American Tyson Gay -- has backfired badly.

The Dundrum South Dublin star lost a full seven and a half weeks of training to a major calf muscle tear in mid-February and, after that, was always chasing mercury.

If you were to believe the rumours, he should be rocking back and forth with dribble running down his chin, not looking tanned and relaxed while sipping a green tea.

The first sighting of him back on this continent this season was when he came to Turkey in mid-June to run for Ireland in the European Team Championships.

He was, reportedly, quiet and withdrawn and looked on the verge of a meltdown.

"Really? I actually don't think I ever talked as much in my life!" he laughs. "I'd been out of that social scene for so long that at dinner one night, I remember saying: 'Sorry lads but I just can't stop talking!'"

But, yes, he was edgy and arrived with his 'game face' on.

"I was a little bit 'everyone's going to think I'm up s**t creek here' and I probably was!"

There was also some residual tension to be resolved due to that relay controversy at last summer's European Championships in Barcelona, when he was accused of letting down the side by not running in the 4x400m relay qualifying the morning after failing to medal in the 400m final.

He had cruised into that final, was tipped for gold even, but finished fifth.

Speculation was already rife that, after four years in Loughborough, he had 'issues' there, so his switch to the States was no shock.

Outside of Jamaica, right now you'll find few sprinting hothouses more fertile than Clermont, a wealthy lake-dotted suburb half an hour from downtown Orlando.

The local track is nothing special. It is actually part of a local hospital's rehab facility and a centre for US triathletes, but it is where Lance Brauman coaches Gay.

Brauman's training group includes several more of the planet's fastest humans; Steve Mullings and Nickel Ashmeade (Jamaica), Shalonda Solomon (USA), Kelly-Ann Baptiste (Trinidad) and former world champion Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie (Bahamas).

Only Usain Bolt is faster than Ashmeade (19.95) over 200m this year and no woman has yet bettered Solomon's 22.15.

Irish Paralympic star Jason Smyth was already training with Brauman and Gillick felt the switch might give him more zip.

But Clermont proved a much lonelier environ than Loughborough's tightly-knit athletics community and student vibe.

Oh sure, he embraced his American Dream, bought a 'cheap as chips' Mustang and threw himself into the training.

He was used to a schedule that alternated between running and strength days.

In Clermont they trained Monday to Friday. It was a 9.30 start and went straight from running into weights, finishing by 2.30 daily with weekends completely free.

The more intense workload disturbed his physical equilibrium and, after suffering the first major injury of his career, niggle followed niggle.

He wasn't prepared, especially, for the isolation.

There was little or no socialising outside of training and he was alone in a one-bed apartment in a 'burb' that only got its first cinema the previous year.

"The group were really welcoming, but it was different, a very professional kind of situation," he explains.

"The athletes come down, do their work and go home. Yes, they mix together, but it wasn't what I was used to from a social aspect in Loughborough."

Everyone back here, including his girlfriend in Britain, was in bed by 6.0 in the evening US time.

For the bubbly Dubliner, that left a whole lot of dead air that not even Skype, or all the theme parks in Florida, could fill.

"The weekends were the worst. If it's wasn't for Fox Soccer Channel I probably would have gone loo-laa!" Gillick reveals. "I'd wake up early on Saturdays and watch three games in a row, non-stop.

"You've too much time on your hands and then you start over-analysing. Then I got injured and that was the worst."

Gillick concedes now that his US move was too much of a "knee-jerk" reaction after failing to medal in both the World Indoor and European finals last year.

His sports psychologist Enda McNulty gave him a roll of paper recently and told him to write down everything that had been bugging him in Loughborough.

The paper kept extending, but when McNulty started pointing and asking 'could you have changed that?' Gillick had to hold up his hands up and reply 'yes!' to most of them.

It was believed he left Loughborough because his 400m training partner Martyn Rooney, who took bronze in Barcelona, had been getting the lion's share of support and coach's attention since finishing sixth in the 2008 Olympics.

"No! I never felt Nick was giving Rooney more attention than me or anyone else," Gillick stresses. "He (Rooney) was getting extra support alright, but only because he's in the English system and I'm not.


"I was weak mentally," he concedes. "I let things get to me. Little things, like the size of the group or like when we were away on a camp in South Africa. It was a UK Athletics camp, so they, understandably, ran the show and I was often left waiting around.

"But most of these were things I could easily have addressed if I'd spoken up. I didn't and that's my fault."

So, it's back to Loughborough in September to get his Olympic dream back on track.

He's using his old GAA club's gym to do his rehab. It may be a far cry from Clermont, but there's always a cuppa and a biscuit waiting upstairs afterwards that he's never appreciated more.

"All the stuff I thought were issues in Loughborough weren't issues at all," Gillick reflects.

"I was thinking I was in this comfort zone, but I was still being challenged, at work (training), every day.

"I think I've realised now that being in a comfort zone is actually a good thing. It's like the law of diminishing returns. Sometimes the harder you try, the less you get back."

Irish Independent

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