Ryan needs leap of faith to defy odds
A LEAP of 6' 5" finally saw Deirdre Ryan make the breakthrough into the world's top high-jumping ranks last summer.
The odds on the elegant six-foot Dubliner replicating that form in today's Olympic qualifying competition appear to have widened somewhat due to a recent back problem.
But with Derval O'Rourke in her corner -- the ex-UCD team-mates usually room together on international duty -- she will be fired up to add an Olympic final appearance to her sixth place at the World Championships last year.
That's when she took her Irish record up by two centimetres to 1.95m, which also clinched her Olympic spot.
It was a long-awaited breakthrough for Ryan (30), from Rathfarnham, who initially joined DSD hoping to become the next Sonia O'Sullivan but quickly discovered: "I had no aerobic capacity at all. I used to plod along at the back in cross-country races." Initially nurtured by Lucy Moore and a sports scholarship at UCD, Ryan has led a peripatetic existence in recent years.
A master's in business earned her a job with Italian bank UniCredit in the IFSC, who were very understanding when she was trying to combine work and training when finishing 13th at the 2006 European Championships.
That prompted her to try full-time training and she ended up in Leverkusen after meeting legendary German coach Gerd Osenburg.
Now in his mid-70s, he has coached Olympic champions like Heike Henkel and Heide Rosendahl in the past and he helped Ryan to make vital gains, jumping 1.93m in 2009 when she also finished 10th at the European Indoors.
But it was AAI'S high performance director Kevin Ankrom, himself an ex-high jumper, who coached her from the stand at the World Championships last year when Osenburg did not make the long trip to Korea.
A fluent German and Italian speaker, Ryan has combined her sport with part-time work and study in recent years and is currently completing a PhD in DCU, where strength and conditioning coach Martina McCarthy also helps her.
She missed the 2008 Olympics due to illness and injury and has a recurring ankle problem which affects her on her run-up and curtails the amount of competitions she can take part in.
Ryan's highest jump this year was 1.90m and she will need to be a lot better today. Two-time world champion Blanka Vlasic is out injured, but her group still includes three women -- Anna Chicherova, Ruth Beitia and US newcomer Brigetta Barrett -- who have jumped over two metres this season.