Mná na hÉireann: Ireland’s Olympians! (part 2)
So who the hell are they? Team Gaelick took a look at Ireland’s female athletes who will be competing for Olympic glory. We brought you part one of the Irish female Olympians on Wednesday. Here’s part 2!
Jessie Barr Athletics (4 x 400m Relay)
Waterford native Jessie Barr secured her place for the London Olympics in the 4 x 400m Relay earlier this month when the line-up was announced.
(In fact, there’s a bit of a question mark over the final squad due to the to-ing and fro-ing of athletes’ appeals surrounding the selection for this event, but it seems as though Barr’s place is secure.)
She describes herself as a late starter to athletics, taking up the sport at the age of 12. Before that, however, she started with gymnastics at the age of 5, as well as squeezing in swimming, hockey and basketball.
Although selected for the relay squad, her speciality is in the 400m hurdles. At the European Athletic Championships in Helsinki last month, she set a personal best of 55.93 in the 400m hurdles. It was the second personal best for the Ferrybank AC athlete in as many months, when she saved 13 hundreths of a second off her earlier personal best set in May, but it meant that she missed out on the Olympic qualifying time of 55.5 for that event.
Hopes, then, are pinned on Barr and her 4 x 400 team mates. G’wan The Deise!
Claire Bergin Athletics (4 x 400m Relay)
Speaking of 4 x 400m relay team mates, here’s one! Claire Bergin is one of the more experienced athletes on Team Ireland, already an Olympian – at Vancouver 2010.
Not only is she a sprinter, but during the winter months she’s a bobsledder, too. Hence those Canadian Winter Olympics. (Cool Runnings, anyone?) By day, she’s a trainee chartered accountant with a big-name shiny company, so she’s got brains to burn and all. Oh, and she helps to change the world for the better through charitable work. As y’do, like. Presumably in all that spare time she has.
Bergin has been running her legs off since before first class in school, so it wasn’t too long (after oodles of school runs and Community Games outings) before she joined Dundrum South Dublin athletics club.
At last year’s World Championships in Daegu, Korea, the Irish team finished 12th in the 4 x 400m relay, and smashed the national record in the process. Bergin told The Running Review:
It was a fantastic experience! Earlier on in the season we had tried to break the national record but the conditions weren’t great so that made it special when we broke it by so much. Prior to running we had discussed with management about breaking 3.30 and maybe going 3.28 so I was nicely surprised when it came up as 3.27.
Michelle Carey Athletics (4 x 400m Relay)
Carey has competed as an international athlete for Ireland for the past ten years, including at the Olympic Games in Beijing, so London will be her second time around representing her nation at Olympic level.
As well as running the 4x400m relay for Ireland, Carey is a top 400m hurdler, and was a member of Dublin Striders AC. When she’s not being a world class international athlete on the track, or pushing the boundaries of gluten-free nutrition, Carey is a primary school teacher in the Leicester. So not too far to travel to the Games, then.
Catriona Cuddihy Athletics (4 x 400m Relay)
Kilkenny native Catriona Cuddihy, of Kilkenny City Harriers AC, holds a personal best for 400m is 55.83 which she set last March.
As things stand, Cuddihy is actually not on the relay team. The 26 year-old was originally selected by Athletics Ireland as part of the Irish 4 x 400m squad. Following a successful appeal by Joanna Mills, who had missed out on being named, Cuddihy was then dropped from the team in favour of Mills.
Cuddihy was informed of her deselection at the National Championships in Santry on Sunday. Her reaction was quoted by the Indo:
I can’t really believe it. Since I’ve come home from [training in] Australia my times have been very good, they’ve been about a second quicker than Joanna Mills, and that’s true so I’m very surprised, and heartbroken.
Cuddihy has since lodged her own appeal against her deselection, which was heard yesterday. She will find out no later than Monday whether her appeal has been successful, and whether she will be travelling to London next week.
Joanne Cuddihy Athletics (4 x 400m Relay)
Sister of Catriona, Joanne Cuddihy is also a member of Kilkenny City Harriers AC. The 28 year-old was the first Irish female to run the 400 metres in 50.73 seconds and is the national record holder. She qualified for 2012 Olympics in May at Shizuoka, Japan, winning the race with a time of 51.45.
In keeping with the theme of over-achieving Irish sportswomen, Joanna Cuddihy is a qualified doctor and an accomplished violinist. Seisiún in the Olympic Village, anyone?
Like her team mate Carey, London will be her second Olympics, having competed at the Beijing Games in 2008, and she has been training for the past year with her sister Catriona in Australia. She told KCLR FM:
Hopefully this time I can make amends [for 2008]. Everyone gets excited and can lose the run of themselves in an Olympic year, but I’m delighted to say this time I’ve pretty good form so far. It’ll be less intimidating as I’m a good bit older and I’ve been in the sport a long time, so it’s not quite as frightening.
She, along with her sister and Joanna Mills, will find out by Monday whether or not it’ll be a family affair in the English capital.
Marian Heffernan Athletics (4 x 400m Relay)
Before marrying fellow Olympic athlete, Robert Heffernan, this athlete ran under her name, Marian Andrews.
She’s been involved in athletics since the age of 7, and won oodles of medals with her first club, Mahon AC, and later with Togher AC. Prior to running in the 400m events, Heffernan began her career in the 100m and 200m sprints.
Qualifying individually for the 2009 European Championships, as well as for the relay, Heffernan finished 9th overall. She was on the Irish team who broke the Irish record last year in Daegu, Korea, in the 400m relay. She summed up that experience in an interview with The Running Review:
One word, “Magic”. I couldn’t have shared it with a better team. It’s a great feeling going out on the track knowing that all the girls wanted it just as much as I did.
And if all that wasn’t enough, in the meantime Heffernan studied applied psychology in 2009 and the following year qualified as a sports injuries therapist.
Joanna Mills Athletics (4 x 400m Relay)
19 year-old Joanna Mills of Ballymena & Antrim AC is an impressive young talent representing her Ireland and Northern Ireland at club and international level. Oh, and in her spare time she’s studying Dentistry at Queens University, Belfast.
She came fourth in the individual 400m final at 2011′s European Junior Championships. Her personal best in the individual 400m is 53.89, and earlier this month she ran a season’s best of 54.17 to go through to the semi-finals at the World Junior Track and Field Championships in Barcelona.
Mills was originally not selected by Athletics Ireland to be on the squad, but was added following a successful appeal. Due to Catriona Cuddihy’s counter-appeal, it remains to be seen whether Mills will retain her place on the team.
The Indo quoted the reaction of her coach, Ian Neely, to the appeal decision which resulted in Mills’ addition to the relay squad:
I went through the process of appeal with Joanna so I’m delighted but I obviously feel sympathy for Catriona because she was deselected. It was never a personal issue with anybody. Our problem was that they [Athletics Ireland] hadn’t followed the correct procedures for their selection process. The best case scenario would have been if Joanna had been added to the team. That would have kept everyone happier.
A note on the 4x400m relay team:
Not all of the above athletes will be going to London. The 4 x 400m squad consists of six athletes: four competitor and two subs.
Following selection by Athletics Ireland, the team originally named on 4th July last by the Olympic Council of Ireland to represent Ireland was Jessie Barr, Claire Bergin, Michelle Carey, Catriona Cuddihy, Joanne Cuddihy and Marian Heffernan. A subsequent successful appeal by Joanna Mills, however, saw her added to the the team in place of Cuddihy. Cuddihy has since lodged a counter-appeal, which was be heard today (Thursday), and a decision is expected not later than Monday – just five days before the London Games begin.
Olympic Chef de Mission Sonia O’Sullivan shared her views on how the decision making was handled:
“If it was up to me there would be a race and the team would be decided on the best people in the race. It makes no sense to me why the decision was made this morning with an appeal. Why did they not just do it with the 400m final?
“It makes no sense to me why we have our National Championships on the weekend of the closing date for entry to the Olympics and decisions are made by people sitting around the table when there is an opportunity for the athletes to get out on the track. I think the decision should be based on the running and not what people think.”
The names of both athletes – Catriona Cuddihy and Joanna Mills – have been entered on the Olympic Games registration system in London. One entry will be withdrawn following the OCI’s Appeals Tribunal decision.
It seems like an unfortunate and unnecessary debacle for all the athletes concerned, but the final six-member squad will be known early next week, and hopefully won’t impact on the team’s performance.
Stephanie Reilly Athletics (3,000m Steeplechase)
London will be Reilly’s first Olympic Games. She qualified in the 2011 New York Marathon with a time of 9:42.91 (within the qualifying time of 9:43.0). Last month, she came 12th in the European Athletics Championships, so her chances of wearing gold may look slim.
Then again, at Cork City Sports on Tuesday she set her latest personal best, coming second in the 3,000m with a time of 9.02.11 – smashing her previous best by almost 10 seconds!
Whatever happens, she’ll be very proudly wearing green. This Sunday afternoon, 22nd July, there’ll be a big send-off party for her in Wicklow, where all her friends and supporters will be welcome. (Details are on her Facebook page.)
Reilly lives in the States and coaches at Bryant University in Rhode Island. Nice work! She also holds a Masters degree in Guidance and Counselling. Good to have, with all those college kids around.
After the Olympics, then, it’ll be back to the US of A to train national winning college teams. Ledgend!
Laura Reynolds Athletics (20K Walk)
With this time, Reynolds also reached her personal best, and achieved all this in her final attempt to reach the XXX Olympic Games.
She joins five other race walkers representing Ireland at the Olympics in London.
The 23 year-old, of Leitrim’s Mohill & District AC, has also represented Ireland at the World University Games, World Youth Championships and at the European Youth Championships.
High-jumper Deirdre from Ballinteer, is “Ireland’s first ever Olympic women’s high jumper thanks to the 1.95m she cleared in Daegu to make the World Championship final, before finishing an excellent sixth in the final.
“Ryan is justifiably aiming higher again for London in a discipline where medals are usually decided by centimetres,” according to The Irish Times.
The 1.95m was a personal best, though, and winners the last couple of Olympics have been 2.02m and 2.03m. So she’ll have to do better than her best. She has consistently made the top eight in international competition, so this could be her moment to shine.
She told The Score:
At this stage now, it’s your own pressure. You do it for yourself, you do it for your coach and all the people that have put the time in over the years — you want to do well for them.
Aileen Morrison Athletics (Triathlon)
Hailing from Derry, representing the North West Triathlon Club, and currently living in Lisburn, Aileen Morrison is Ireland’s only female triathlete at the XXX Olympics. The 29 year-old took up triathlon – which involves swimming, cycling and running – four years ago, displaying an impressive progression to being an Olympic contender.
In fact, Morrison qualified for the Olympics at the end of last season. She made her mark in 2010 at the International Triathlon Union (ITU) European Championships, achieving the best result ever by an Irish triathlete. She soon improved on her fifth place ranking in that competition, earning bronze at the 2010 World Series in Hamburg.
She racked up the medals after that, including second place at the ITU World Championships in Ishigaki, and culminating with silver at the Madrid World Series in May this year – the latter being the best ever performance (again) by an Irish triathlete.
According to The Score, here’s how she rates her chances:
There is no way I can’t realistically finish inside the top 15. I’d really like a top 10 finish that would be really good. Now in saying that, I have medals on the World Series – which shows that I can compete when I’m at my best.
Watch out, London. This woman is a serious contender indeed.
Chloe Magee Badminton
Donegal is very proud of their 22-year old badminton whizz, Chloe Magee.
As well they should. According to The Score, she qualified for London 2012 back in May via the BWF Olympic Games Qualification list. She’s the world number 44, and is ranked 26 on the list of 46 players who have qualifed in the ladies singles Olympic event.
Probably the best badminton player Ireland has ever produced, Chloe is now living in Sweden as the facilities here aren’t up to scratch.
She told Donegal Now that life as a the best isn’t all sunshine and roses:
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days when I wished I lived a normal life, where I could go out for a few drinks and eat whatever I want. But that feeling disappears when you train really well or the moments when you have a really hard-fought win.
Katie Taylor Boxing
Katie Taylor is Irish boxing. She has won (take a deep breath):
The European Union Amateur Championships every year since 2008; the European Amateur Championships every year since 2005 (except 2010); and the World Amateur Championship for the past four years in a row. She would probably win the box-stitching championships if there was one.
Training in her home town of Bray, she is the great medal hope of Ireland, already through to the quarter finals because she is seeded 1 in the world. The only No. 1 seeded competitor from Ireland in any sport.
Is it any wonder that, when you ask any Irish person what they think of her they say, “She’s a legend!”?
Lisa Kearney Judo
Lisa Kearney has the distinction of becoming Ireland’s first ever Olympic women’s judo competitor. Living and training in Edinburgh, as well as being a full-time Irish judo athlete, she’s studying psychology at university. Plus she gets some really amazing pressies along the way. Sure, why not?
Aged just 23 years of age, Kearney from Belfast, had only just gotten back from a knee injury which forced her to her to miss four qualifying events in the lead-up to the Olympics.
I am really delighted that I have qualified a place for Ireland at the London 2012 Olympics.
I am really looking forward to competing. I think it will only sink in early next week when I get official confirmation.
She also recently won silver at the World Cup in Estonia, so watch out for some sort of medal next month!
Anna Merveldt Equestrian (Dressage)
Way back at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics she finished eleventh. It was looking like she might not qualify this time around as she broke a rib in a car accident in November. She came eleventh again just last mont at the prestigious five-star CDI in Aachen (trust me, it’s impressive).
She has competed at eight European Championships for Ireland, finishing in the top 15 on three separate occasions in 1993, 1997 and 2001 and was a member of the Irish team at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez in 2002 and also competed in Aachen in 2006.
Merveldt will be Ireland’s sole competitor in dressage at the 2012 London Olympics. She told the Irish Examiner:
You never know how things will go, but I think London will be good fun. The standard is huge at the moment and I would not be expecting a medal, we’ll just see how far we can get.
On her horse, Coryolano, a 17-year-old Bavarian Warmblood gelding, she told Dressage Daily:
Coryolano has the heart of a lion; he is an extremely obedient horse with amazing stamina. He is easy to ride and always gives his best. He hates prize givings and frogs!
Sorry, Coryolano. I hope you get spooked by a medal. Giddy up!
Aoife Clark Equestrian (Three Day Eventing)
Another Kildare woman in Ireland’s horsey set (who knew?), Clark will be looking to top her greatest achievement to date, a double clear at the Blenheim and Boekelo CCI three star in 2009 with her trusty steed Master Crusoe (aka “Paddy”) – and the 11 year-old, Lily White Syndicate-owned gelding will be accompanying her to the Games.
Since the last Olympics, Clark has finished in the top ten in no less than 11 international competitions. A leading Irish rider in 2010 and having completed her 1st Badminton 2011, her numerous top ten placings at three star level include 6th Blenheim CCI three star, 3rd Belton CIC three star, 5th Tattersalls World Cup Qualifier, 5th Chatsworth CIC three star and 7th CIC three star Bramham.
Clark has lived in England since 2006. She often returns to Ireland to look for young horses, being a huge fan of Irish bred eventers. Clark runs her own professional event yard in Oxfordshire. Oh, and she has a first class degree in Maths and Classics from University College Dublin, as y’do.
The eventing competition in London starts on 28th July, and Clark’s greatest ambition of winning an Olympic gold will be in her sights.
We’ll be cheering you on from Ireland!
Camilla Speirs Equestrian (Three Day Eventing)
Deirdrie Chaymbers! Another Kildarian! The second woman in Ireland’s eventing team is 21 year-old Camilla Speirs, who’ll be riding Portersize Just a Jiff, a 12-year-old gelding which she jointly owns with her mother Bridget.
(Seemingly, at 15.1hh he’s “only just a horse”. Poor Jiff!)
Speirs is tipped as one of the bright stars on the Irish equestrian scene, and has twice won the Irish Field award as well as the Golden Saddle.
She began competing at the tender age of 11, and to date her greatest achievement has been reaching 14th place at the 2010 Badminton CCI four star event.
To send her and her horse on their way, Speirs had a great win at Tattersalls in Rathoath last month. Hi-ho, Jiffers – away!
Hannah Craig Canoeing (K1 Slalom)
Hailing from Co Antrim, Hannah Craig will represent Ireland in K1 racing kayak event after finishing 25th in the European Championships in Augsburg, Germany.
Aged 27, she had to found her own clothing company to raise the money for her Olympic attempt.
Having narrowly missed out on Olympic qualification in 2008 and she has been competing on the international circuit for several years, Craig was delighted to have qualified for London 2012:
I really love my sport and qualifying for the Olympics will give me the chance to raise the profile of what is a hugely exciting sport.
Sanita Puspure Rowing (Single Sculls)
Latvian-born Puspure became the first woman rower from Ireland to reach the Olympics since 1980 by finishing in the top four in the Olympic Qualifer in Lucerne. The 30 year-old is also Ireland’s only rowing competitor.
Sanita and her husband Kaspar moved to Dublin in 2006, before relocating to Cork to be nearer to the National Rowing Centre in Inniscarra.
Winner of the Afloat Rower of the Month she heads to the Olympic Games with a rake of accolades.
While in Latvia, she competed in youth events for her country, earning a bronze medal in single sculls at the World under-23 Championships in 2003 and a gold in the double scull at the World Student Games in 2004.
As soon as she was granted citizenship last year, Puspure began representing Ireland in international competitions and embarked on the road to London.
Good! – Keep ‘em coming, Puspure! (pron. Puss-purr)
Annalise Murphy Sailing (Laser Radial)
Murphy became the first Irish sailor to qualify for this year’s Games, and some might say she was born ready: she has been sailing since the age of 6, her dad holds the round Ireland speed record, and her mother represented Ireland in Seoul back in 1988.
Racing a Laser Radial (that’s the Olympic woman’s single handed dinghy, but you probably already knew that) she won the Europa Cup in 2009, the under-21 World title, and became the first woman to win the Irish National Championships in 2010.
Murphy is a constant feature of the top five in most races around the globe and is naturally optimistic about her chances at Weymouth this summer.
Sycerika McMahon Swimming (100m Breaststroke)
The youngest member (I think) of Team Ireland, 17 year-old McMahon secured her Olympic qualification in May at the Olympics at the European Swimming Championships this morning in Debrecen, Hungary.
She finished second in her heat, with a time of 1:08.37 in the 100m breaststroke, and was the third fastest qualified into the semi-final of that tournament.
She went on to take silver in the 50 metre breaststroke on the final day of the same Championships, and became the youngest ever swimmer to win a medal at a major event.
The Portaferry teenager finished that event in a time of 31.27 seconds – just missing out on gold by two-hundreths of a second, but setting a new record in the process. The previous record of 31.49 had also been held by McMahon, an indicator of her prodigious talent.
Could be, then, that the chances of a medal are fairly high. She told The Belfast Telegraph:
It’s everyone’s dream to win a medal at the Olympics, it’s my dream too and hopefully one day that can happen. I hope [the European Championships] is just the start of me winning major medals, I want more for sure.
You can do this thing, Sycerika!
Wexford native Gráinne Murphy has spent the past six months in preparation for London’s games, knowing as far back as December 2011 that she had her Olympic berth secured after finishing third in the 800m freestyle event at the Dutch Open Championship.
Making Olympic-standard times as far back as 2009, the 19 year-old scooped up three gold medals at the European Junior Swimming Championships that year, and a silver medal at the 1500m freestyle at the senior Championships in 2010.
In February of this year, by the narrowest of margins, The Irish Times Sports Woman of the Year 2010 missed out on breaking Michelle Smith’s record in the 200m Freestyle. With a time of 2 minutes and 00.02 seconds, Murhpy was just nine hundredths of a second outside Smith’s time set in 1997 at the Europeans Championships in Seville.
She is the current Irish record holder in the 1,500m freestyle – which unfortunately is not an Olympic event for women. (The mind boggles.)
Murphy holds the She is based at the University of Limerick at the high performance unit there, has spent the past few months in intensive training (and driving a Honda CR-Z), and everything looks to be going to plan for a swimmer that looks to be at the top of her game right now.
Melanie Nocher Swimming (200m Backstroke)
Nocher – whose clubs are Loughborough Univeristy and Ards SC – just made it inside the Olympic A standard required, with a time of 2:10.75 – only 0.09 of a second inside the mark – and secured a new Irish record into the bargain.
The Holywood, Co Down, native started swimming at the age of nine at a local swimming club. She says that all her friends used to beat her and all improved before her. Well, the joke’s on them!
At the age of twelve Nocher won her first Ulster championship medal. After that, the rest is history! Win after win – and countless broken records – later, the swimmer found self belief and here she is: London will be Nocher’s second Olympics, after competing in Beijing in 2008.
Another medal contender here, we reckon. Come on, Melanie!
All images are with huge thanks to The Irish Times, who have a full list of Irish Olympic competitors here