Sunday 17 December 2017

Catherina McKiernan: We should respect our medal-chasing walkers a lot more than we do

Rob Heffernan is doing 50km, which is even longer than a marathon. The amount of training you have to put in for 50km walk is phenomenal. Photo: Sportsfile
Rob Heffernan is doing 50km, which is even longer than a marathon. The amount of training you have to put in for 50km walk is phenomenal. Photo: Sportsfile

Catherina McKiernan

Despite all the talk of drugs and tickets I'm already really enjoying the Olympics. You just find yourself sucked into it, it's hard not to be.

Myself and the two kids sit down and watch it together which is lovely, and kids can be very observant.

My 10-year-old son said: "Everyone is talking about the drugs but not everyone that's competing is on drugs. Why don't people talk about the positive things?"

He noticed that the video of the French gymnast who broke his leg badly went viral, whereas there were loads of records broken in the swimming pool but none of them went viral.

He was wondering why it's always the bad news that people want to hear; he has a good point.

I'm in awe of the gymnasts in particular; what they can do with their bodies is phenomenal and as a runner, you feel so inflexible looking at them.

But with the athletics started now I'm going to be watching a lot of that.

Robert Heffernan is our biggest medal hope. He has great experience, already has a medal from London and I hear his training and preparation has gone really well.

The walkers get a rough time of it sometimes. It's not glamorous, and they get a little bit of slagging, and I really don't like that because I know just how hard they train.

Rob is doing 50km, which is even longer than a marathon. The amount of training you have to put in for 50km walk is phenomenal.


During his race he also has to be focused for the whole time so as not to get disqualified, so it's a really tough sport. A European, World or Olympic medal is desperately hard to win.

I really think we should respect our walkers a lot more than we do.

People regard Ciara Mageean as next in line because she won a bronze medal at Europeans, but people lose the run of themselves sometimes.

Ciara is good, she's talented and gutsy and tough, but she's up against it.

This is her first Olympics. She lacks big championship experience so getting out of the first round to the semi-finals would be an achievement. Reaching a final would be asking an awful lot of her.

If Irish athletes do the qualifying time then they're entitled to be there. I know personally how hard that is.

People often wonder why they can't run their personal bests then on the big stage, but these are championship races. They can be very tactical which doesn't allow you to run PBs.

Nerves can also be a huge factor, especially for the first-time Olympians. I can still remember the hype in Atlanta, which was my second Games.

The 100m final was on before the 10,000m final and there were some false starts so we were left for ages, striding up and down the other side of the track.

It seemed like an eternity because, at that stage, you just want to get going. The Olympics is nerve-wracking, you've just got to try and block it out.

I'll be especially interested in the women's marathon tomorrow, where we have three athletes, including Fionnuala McCormack.

So much can go wrong in the marathon, but in the ones she's run so far, she didn't have any stomach problems or anything.

She is a great competitor. If any of our athletes is going to give her all, it's Fionnuala. She finished 13th in the Chicago marathon last year and if she replicates that it would be great.

We have three qualifiers in the men's event too; I thought the qualification standards were a bit easy, but look, that gives people an opportunity to become Olympians.

I feel the qualification process is not an even playing field between different events.

The women's steeplechase qualifying time, for example, was relatively easy compared to the men's 1500m time, but athletes just have to put up with that and meet the standards that are set.

The one thing the public should understand is that every Irish athlete is going out there to do their best.

As long as you reach the finish line and know you couldn't have run a second faster, then you have to be content that you've done your best. That's their ambition, that's what every one of them will set out to do.

I do think it helps if the ones who start first do well. That lifts morale and performance levels.

You would wonder if that was a factor for our boxers, that they didn't start off with few wins and that started to affect them?

If everyone is doing badly in a team the morale can be low and that puts more pressure on you to raise it when it's your turn.

People feed off positive energy when their team-mates are doing well, they get confidence. You say to yourself 'well if they can do it, so can I!'

In athletics, there's no team-mate there to throw or kick the ball to. You're exposed out on a track and have to be very strong-minded, especially if things start to go wrong.

In a 5,000m or 10,000m race, when you begin to get detached from the leading group, you really have to talk to yourself. If you start thinking negatively about yourself you'll start to go backwards.

There were times in my career where I just had to keep plugging away, when my legs were hanging off.


The European Cross-Country title I won in '94 was my toughest race ever, including all the marathons. My legs were just going from under me, I felt sick afterwards and I was completely pale; I pushed myself to the very limit, but that's what you've got to do.

Regardless of what place you finish, once you cross that line and know you couldn't have given it an ounce more, then you can be content with yourself.

But if you cross thinking I did something stupid, or could have run faster, that's when you'll have regrets. The most important thing afterwards is peace of mind for yourself.

Athletes have just got to keep fighting to the bitter end, .

The best advice I can give, from my experience, is to just try to block all the 'Olympic' stuff. I know it might sound a bit funny but I think if athletes can block all that out, and just think that they're running in Santry or Tullamore or down in the Mardyke, then that will help them.

Irish Independent

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