Sunday 22 July 2018

Dream becoming reality for Ireland's Rio hopefuls

400m hurdler Thomas Barr. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
400m hurdler Thomas Barr. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Olympians, by their nature, spend an awful lot of time dreaming, but with less than two months to go until the Rio Games, it's finally starting to seem real.

For some, it's simply a case of steering a safe path from here until August, avoiding the many pitfalls along the way, but others aren't so lucky. For some, it's now a race against time.

Thomas Barr is one of those; he was one of nine team members in Dublin yesterday, where he got first sight of the team kit he will don in the Olympic Stadium later this summer, assuming a nagging hip injury leaves him be.

"I've been able to do next to no track work for the last 10 weeks," said Barr, who has already secured qualification in the 400m hurdles.

"I wondered if I'm ever going to get this injury shifted, but I'm back on track now, and more positive and confident that I will toe the line (in Rio)."

Barr finished 11th at the World Championships in Beijing last year, but has since been forced to learn a valuable lesson about the knife edge separating health and injury in elite athletics.

"When you're running well, you think you're indestructible but this brings you back to reality," he said. "When you're training at the level and intensities we are, we're so fragile that one little thing amiss can set us off for a long time."

Nonetheless, he hopes a crash course of training and racing these next two months will get him to Rio in the right shape.

"My coach said it could be a blessing in disguise as we finally learned what's happening with my hip. Last year my goal would have been to make a final (in Rio), but things change. I still want to be competitive, and I wouldn't mind being an underdog."

For others, such as 1500m runner Ciara Mageean, it's a case of maintaining current progress and avoiding the injuries that saw her promising career grind to a halt for several years.

"Training is going really well," said Mageean. "It's just a case of making sure I rest well enough, because all the hard work is in the bag. I just need to keep myself ticking over for the Games."

Mageean will compete at next month's European Championships in Amsterdam, which she hopes will provide the perfect springboard to Rio.

"I'm doing it to get back into championship mindset to get me a bit more prepared for the Olympics. It's a stepping stone but hopefully I'll do myself proud in both," she said.

At this stage of her career, the height of Mageean's capabilities may be to reach the final in Rio, but others, such as modern pentathlete Arthur Lanigan-O'Keeffe, have their eyes trained on loftier targets.

"I'm aiming for gold," he said. "There are about 10 guys who can win a medal, and hopefully I'll bring one home. I've got to believe that."

Lanigan-O'Keeffe is the reigning European champion at a sport which combines swimming, fencing, showjumping, running and shooting in a single-day competition, and the 24-year-old believes he has progressed since winning that title last August.

"Everything suggests my progress is way, way beyond where it was last year," he said. "I'm super-fit at the moment. My whole training programme has been to peak for Rio. Hopefully I'll be on that podium."

Though this will be Lanigan-O'Keeffe's second Olympics, Ellis O'Reilly will be making her debut, and in doing so the 18-year-old will become the first female gymnast to represent Ireland at the Olympics.

The London native, who is eligible to represent Ireland through her Armagh grandfather, secured qualification back in April, though unlike the others, the idea of her donning the green vest on sport's biggest stage still seems too much of a dream to be real.

"I don't think it's sunk in that I'm going yet," she said. "I don't think it will until I get there."

Irish Independent

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