It is often said that the hardest thing about the Olympic Games is the qualification. I now know first-hand what people mean. The past six weeks have been more of a mental challenge than physical. The uncertainty. The not knowing. One moment I had convinced myself how could the selectors not pick me. Moments later, I would begin to question how they ever could. The flip-flopping in my mind continued for weeks on end. After the events in the lead in to London, the selectors were left with a choice. Whatever the decision, the selectors’ meeting on the 23rd May would bring closure. It would mean either heartbreaking disappointment or overwhelming delight. I dared not dream, knowing that it would be so much tougher if the news was bad.
The nerves were steadily building. We were to receive a phonecall at some stage between 5pm and 8pm. The night before I had hardly slept, through a combination of nerves and worry. Occasionally, I would permit myself to visualise racing around the streets of Rio. I would quickly push the thoughts to the back of my mind. All throughout the day, the worry continued. I tried to keep myself distracted with my training, gymwork and meeting friends. It did little to help. Friends and family had been warned not to get in touch until I had heard from the selectors.
For the past two years, I have had a film crew follow my journey for an RTE programme called ‘Road to Rio’. It is a series that has followed ten potential Irish Olympians and their quest for Olympic qualification. It has documented all of my struggles, the injuries and occasional success. It seemed only fitting therefore, that they would be present at the end of this journey. They had asked to film the phonecall of me receiving the news, be it either good or bad. I agreed, knowing that this was a part of my story that I would want documented, whatever way the selection went.
After a long nervous wait, the phone rang shortly after 6pm. ‘We are delighted to confirm your selection’…..I heard little else as a wave of emotion, happiness and shock spread throughout my body. The first thing I wanted to do, as I imagine most people would, was to phone my mum. Typically, it went to voicemail. I tried my dad, and after being placed on speakerphone, I told all my family the good news. The next hour passed in a speechless blur, as I called my coach, close friends and training partners. It was an hour of pure happiness, thanking some of those people who have helped me get to where I am today. That night again, I slept very little, this time with excitement. I am going to the Olympics!
Athletics is, by its very nature, a competitive sport. It is truly unfortunate that in order for me to fulfil my dream, someone else has to lose theirs. I know that the selectors had a tough choice to make. Over the past few days, several personal things have been said and written on both social media and the wider public media. Running, especially distance running, in my eyes is supposed to unite, to bond together individuals regardless of faith, nationality or race. That has always been one of the main attractions of the sport to me. When you race someone, regardless of the end result, you treat them with respect, you shake hands with them at the finish line and you grow a little closer. A bond is formed. Therefore, to read that some other members of the running community actively want you to fail is tough.
Already several people have said to me that I had better run well in Rio, that the pressure is on me to perform, to justify my selection. I however, do not feel that I have to justify my selection. Don’t get me wrong, I want to perform to the very best of my ability, just as every other selected athlete does when racing for their country. However, you do not qualify for the Olympics by chance. I do not know what was said in the selection meeting. I do not know if I was the first name on the list or the third. With so many qualifiers, a decision needed to be made. A decision which I would like to believe was not based on an athlete’s country of origin or any personal vendettas. I understand that emotions are high but I am disappointed to see the sport that I love being associated with such negative connotations. I do believe I have a point to prove in Rio. Not, however, to random strangers that I do not know. Not even to the selectors. I have a point to prove to myself, for I am, perhaps, the harshest critic of all.
The happiness of Monday evening has largely evaporated with everything that has been going on. However, it is time to stop reading papers and social media and get back to work. I have an Olympics to prepare for. It is time to get ready for the next step. It is time to be positive. As expected, my foot cleared up shortly after London and already I am back in high mileage, building up the strength. Thankfully, the majority of the fitness is still there. The next real test will come over the half marathon distance in Amsterdam at the start of July. With a strong Irish team announced, a team medal is a real possibility. So, for now, the journey continues steadily onwards towards its final destination.
I would just like to finish by saying a massive thank you to everyone who has messaged and said congratulations over the past few days. It really has been overwhelming to know that there is so much support out there. I am grateful to so many people who have sacrificed various things to allow me to be where I am today. The list would be too long to write and inevitably, I would miss someone out but know that I truly am thankful. To my training partner Kevin and to Mick, congratulations on your selection and hopefully we can each finish strongly in Rio, achieving the goals that we want. To all those who qualified but sadly were not selected, know that I am not taking this Olympic place for granted. The biggest respect that I can pay you is by training my ass off for the next eleven weeks and performing to my best ability in Rio. I hope to see each one of you on the startline again soon.
As a final point, ‘Road to Rio’ is being shown this Wednesday at 20.30 on RTE2 (episode 4). I am yet to see the final cut and it might be extremely cringeworthy for me to view, but I am glad that my story has been documented. I just hope that the final unwritten chapter has a happy ending.