Category: Archive

Red letter day

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Her 100 meters hurdles silver medal at the European Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, last week was joyous, not just for the sheer quality of her performance but because it was so unexpected.
Okay, O’Rourke is the reigning world indoor champion over 60 meters, but competing outdoors, with that extra 40 meters added on, makes the two events very different shades of the same color. Every athlete, including the 25-year-old from Cork, knows there is always more prestige attached to an outdoor championship.
If the agonizing wait before the medal placings were finally decided – initially O’Rourke had been awarded the silver ahead of Germany’s Kirsten Bolm, but following a protest, Bolm was upgraded to a silver as well – only increased the drama, this was a red-letter day for Irish athletics.
Notwithstanding the recent achievements of Joanne Cuddihy and Karen Shinkins, successful Irish women sprinters are about as rare as trophies in a Kilkenny Gaelic footballer’s cabinet. Not alone did O’Rourke set a national record of 12.72 seconds in pushing the winner Susanna Kallur of Sweden all the way to the line, she became the first Irish sprinter, male or female, to medal at a major championships.
An injury early in the summer, and some underwhelming form in the lead-up to the Gothenburg final, hardly augured well for this sort of performance. To add to the lack of expectation, she had also been drawn in lane one whereas either lanes three, four or five are regarded as the best positions from which to control a race. But in the end, O’Rourke proved herself to be an exceptional competitor.
“Of all the athletes I’ve worked with,” said her coach Jim Kilty last weekend, “I’ve never come across anyone with such determination. I’ve seen that because she’s been through a lot with injuries and a long lay-off. She has a lovely black left knee where she hit the last hurdle hard, and probably missed out on running 12.68 or 12.69 because of that. But she held on for the silver, and it was very brave that run in from the last hurdle.
“She’s a very rare talent, but she’s also a very rare person in that she’s never happy with just moving along nice and steadily. Every year she wants something new to make her run faster, and as a competitor, she’s absolutely ruthless.”
So, hats off to O’Rourke, to her dedication, her determination and her temperament. Everyone is rightly proud of this silver medal, and then when the dust settles you begin to wonder. You try to stop yourself, and yet there is something nagging here.
All week, you have watched the events from Gothenburg, and all week, you have examined every athlete, their performances and their physiques, and somehow you can find a reason to doubt them all. Without knowing precisely why, you instinctively wonder who is clean and who might be doping.
And it’s the same for every major track and field event now. Even though it took until the Seoul Olympics of 1988, and Ben Johnson’s expulsion, for a worldwide audience to lose its innocence, it really took Ireland until Michelle Smith’s Atlanta Olympics eight years later to wake up to the reality of elite sport.
Because of the Balco scandal, because of the whirl of allegations surrounding Marion Jones, because of Justin Gatlin’s recent fall from grace, and because an Irish distance runner, Cathal Lombard, tested positive for the blood-boosting drug EPO before the Athens Olympics, even the cheerleaders are sceptical these days.
Is it not Derval O’Rourke’s fault that the sport she loves and excels at is afflicted by a cancer. It is not her fault that performance enhancing drugs are rife in track and field, and not her fault that many of the athletes who were at Gothenburg have been deluded by a culture which encourages them to cheat.
So, there is a bittersweet element to her triumph. Harbouring doubts over a sport’s credibility might be the practice of the cynic, but that is now the dilemma for the discerning viewer of track and field.
In this instance, both the heart and the head says that O’Rourke is a driven, ambitious, hard-working athlete who has risen above delusion to make her way with an integrity that seems all too rare nowadays.
She will now aim to make the final of the World Championships in Osaka, Japan next year, before concentrating on the Bejiing Olympics in 2008. Ireland has a sprinter we can believe in — in every sense of the word.

Contrite Forde denies
stamp was deliberate
The Wexford Gaelic footballer Matty Forde, who is currently serving a 12-week suspension following the now infamous stamping incident during last month’s Leinster championship game against Offaly, broke a long silence recently to give his version of the events that led to his ban.
Forde was adamant that he never set out to stamp on Offaly defender, Shane Sullivan, but that he lost his balance and walked on Sullivan after a tackle. “It looked terrible on TV, but under no circumstances was it intentional,” the former All Star explained.
“I did walk on Shane, but I didn’t mean to. I could swear that on a stack of bibles, and the most hurtful thing from my point of view was that the Central Disciplinary Committee told me they were unanimous in thinking I did it on purpose. I wouldn’t lie about a thing like that. I’m 14 stone, and if I’d stamped on Shane I would’ve ripped his head off,” Forde added.
If the Wexford player was keen to justify his actions, he had no hesitation in apologising for what happened. “The first thing I want to do is apologise,” he told both the Sunday Tribune and the Sunday Independent.”
Fair enough, but if Forde now comes across as so contrite, why didn’t he apologise in the immediate aftermath of the incident? Because the referee hadn’t seen his clash with Sullivan, did he hope that the issue would simply go away?
Coming clean when the case was closed was too little too late. That delay in saying he was sorry did him no favors.

Dominant Dubs need
to make adjustments
No apologies for blowing Dublin’s trumpet though. Into the All Ireland football semi-final to face either Laois or Mayo, who played out an exhilarating draw in their quarter-final, and the chances of a first Sam Maguire Cup heading for the Irish capital since 1995 are looking good.
If the rest of the country have been not so quietly rejoicing in Dublin’s misfortunes over the years, this season could be one of redemption with the added prospect of a final next month against the traditional enemy, Kerry.
We would like to report that the Dubs cut a swathe through Westmeath in last weekend’s hopelessly one-sided quarter-final at Croke Park, but the truth is less palatable. Yes, the 1-12 to 0-5 win was comprehensive, and yes there were impressive performances from Ciaran Whelan, Bryan Cullen and Shane Ryan, but Dublin’s radar within 40 meters of the goal will have to be adjusted.
For all their pace and style, they contrived to kick 16 wides in an exhibition of that would have embarrassed the county’s minor team. “That’s the big disappointment. We had so much possession, but we didn’t get the scores,” said selector Brian Talty. “I mean the next game is a whole new day, and some of the lads could be kicking it over the ball from all angles. At the same time, we know there’s a lot of work to be done.”
With all the necessary subjectivity, we hope the best is yet to come.

Clarke tragedy puts
Ryder in perspective
Just over a month now to Ireland’s first ever Ryder Cup at the K Club, and with the Americans finalizing their team at the conclusion of the PGA Championship at Medinah, Europe’s players have until the beginning of September to guarantee their places.
From an Irish perspective, we know that Padraig Harrington will be playing, and we know that Des Smyth will be one of Ian Woosnam’s vice-captains, but it is possible that Harrington could be the only representative from the home sod.
Paul McGinley, meanwhile, has been on the bubble for some time. However, the Ryder Cup, the qualification race, and all the trimmings that surround one of golf’s biggest events, were rendered meaningless when the news came through last Sunday that Darren Clarke’s wife Heather had died at the age of 39 following a brave battle against cancer.
Obviously, Clarke won’t now be at the K Club for the matches, and with his close friend McGinley withdrawing from this week’s PGA Championship to attend Heather’s funeral, he might have to depend on a wild card pick from Europe captain Woosnam.
At the moment, with Darren Clarke and his two young sons Conor and Tyrone in mourning for Heather, the Ryder Cup simply doesn’t count.

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