Wednesday 13 November 2019

Rohan delivers on A golden promise

Ruaidhri O'Connor in London

AS THE face of Ireland's Paralympic team, Mark Rohan knew he had to deliver something special and yesterday he did just that, claiming Paralympic gold for Ballinahown, for Westmeath and for Ireland at Brands Hatch.

The famous old motor racing venue provided the ultimate test on the opening day of road cycling and, to the untrained eye, the undulating track looked like torture for the hand-cyclists who struggled up its hills.

Reigning world champion, poster boy and the only Irish athlete other than Katie Taylor to be awarded a Sky Sports scholarship, Rohan admitted he was feeling the pressure going into the HC1 time trial.

But he channelled that energy into a performance that saw him finish 11 seconds quicker than Israeli Koby Lion, who had been occupying first place after two laps of the track.

And so Ireland had claimed its sixth gold medal at the Paralympic Games. Indeed, it was the paracycling team's third medal of the day, with the tandem teams of James Brown and Damien Shaw and Catherine Walsh and Fran Meehan earlier claiming bronze in their time trial events.

Joy

The joy of the day was encapsulated in one moment in the media mixed zone. Down native Brown and his pilot Shaw from Mullingar had arrived to be interviewed without their result having been confirmed.

Clinging on to third in the 1km B time trial, they were forced to wait as the tannoy, slowly but surely, confirmed their bronze. The two men flung the bike they share to the floor and embraced. Six days after an agonising fourth-placed finish, they could finally celebrate.

Two hours later, when Rohan arrived at the same spot, his route through the mixed zone was lined with microphones from international broadcasters, who hunched down to hear his story.

The former Westmeath U-21 footballer (right), who is paralysed from the chest down after a motorbike accident in 2006, had won gold and he was over the moon with his performance.

"I'm overwhelmed, to be honest. I'm just so delighted for the whole team," he said. "I'm just delighted to be able to get a medal to give it all back -- there was a lot of expectation on myself on current form to deliver a medal.

"I stayed focused. They guys around me kept me focused. With 20 minutes to go to the start, during the warm-up, I could hear Damien and James coming through with a medal and then Fran and Catherine coming through with another one. They inspired me to go on and do what I had to do."

Rohan was the last Irish athlete to compete at these Games and admitted that watching all of his team-mates claim glory had spurred him on to succeed. "Once Bethany (Firth) got the first medal I really really wanted one of my own," he said.

"I just kept envisioning myself on the starting ramp and I just concentrated on putting out the watts. (Coach) Brian Nugent came up with a game plan and it worked perfectly."

Meehan and Walsh, who won silver on the track on Sunday, also paid tribute to Nugent, who could bask in the glory of a day of deliverance. The time-trial is not the duo's strongest event, but they managed to finish a comfortable third.

Asked what had made the team so successful despite a dearth of facilities, Offaly native Meehan said: "I don't know the exact figures but they said on TV that we got €100,000 for our programme and I have heard that British cycling get something like £20-£22m.

"You don't need that much money but you do need more than what we get. Everybody makes the most of what they have. We don't complain, we just get on and do it."

Get on with it they did, and in some style, as Ireland brought their medal tally to 13 on another memorable day.

Irish Independent

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