Wednesday 29 January 2020

Where are they now?

Liam O'Brien

(Former athlete)

Former Olympic athlete Liam O'Brien won 11 national steeplechase titles over a 17-year period, but the Corkman believes that having such a long career was his greatest achievement in the sport. In many ways it was more special than being an Olympian.

O'Brien started running at a young age. His father worked at the Whitegate refinery and it was at their sports day that he first experienced the joy of athletics. In the mid-1960s, the Midleton Athletic Club was formed so O'Brien joined up and started to race competitively at juvenile level.

From there he went on to teacher training college in Limerick and his career prospered. He was always a middle-distance runner but at that time he was running shorter distances on the track, like the 400m and 800m. Then as he got older he started to compete in more long-distance events and those were the races that he performed best in, particularly the steeplechase.

"It's a very specific event. I found out pretty quickly I could beat people in the steeplechase that might often beat me on the flat. There is a little bit of technique involved in it; you're jumping up over barriers, landing and absorbing shock and I was just able to do it. It suited me," says O'Brien.

In 1977, the Corkman won his first national title and he went on to claim 10 more national titles, winning his last in 1994. In many ways that time was a golden era for Irish steeplechasers with the likes of Brendan Quinn, Kieran Stack and Joe Hartnett all competing in the event. A lot of the records that stand today were recorded back then.

O'Brien also achieved success on the international stage. In 1984, he qualified for the Los Angeles Olympic Games and reached the semi-final. Three years later, he went to the World Championships in Rome.

Just over a year ago, he retired from teaching at Midleton CBS. However, he is still involved in athletics and orienteering at the school.

O'Brien is also one of the organisers of the Munster Schools athletics and is technical director of Cork City Sports. From working with so many young athletes, the former Olympian thinks the future looks bright for Irish athletics.

"The talented athletes, like Sonia O'Sullivan, will always come through and on top of this we have made some good strides in developing facilities and underage structures in this country."

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