Friday, 26 October 2012

Sported. Charity- Speech from Rebecca Marquess

Rebecca Marquess is a 15 year old athlete from North Belfast Harriers. At the recent launch of the charity Sported., Rebecca delivered a fantastic speech to tell everyone how taking part in athletics and being a member of a club has benefited her life, and has also had a positive impact on her family.

Sported. works with community sport groups and clubs to help them build capacity and improve management so they can sustain their activities. If you think your club could benefit from a mentor, visit their website

My name is Rebecca Marquess I am 15 years old and I am a member of North Belfast Harriers.

When I was 11 years old in primary 7 at Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School I was selected for the school Cross Country team. After I had finished second in the North Belfast schools race in Grove Playing Fields I was approached by the President of Athletics Northern Ireland, a friend and former work colleague of my father, who advised me I should join a running club. When I returned home I visited the Athletics Northern Ireland website to see if there were any local clubs I could contact. I discovered that there was a club located not far from where I lived and then contacted the junior coach Jimmy Nolan who invited me over to Mary Peters Track to train with the club. I found the club to be very welcoming and the coaches and athletes friendly and decided to become a member.

North Belfast is a club that was established 116 years ago based in North Belfast, that coaches all children irrespective of age, ability, race, gender, ethnicity, religious belief, sexuality or social/economic status. We have recently achieved gold Clubmark status which amongst other policies shows the clubs dedication to child protection and athlete welfare. All of the coaches are qualified through UK Athletics and have received the appropriate training.

When I joined North Belfast Harriers there was one junior coach and approximately 10 athletes training at Mary Peters Track. Currently there are 7 coaches and up to 60 or 70 athletes training at 3 venues – Girls Model Running Track, Boys Model Running Track and Jordanstown University. Our numbers are still growing and we need more coaches. I am going to attend the Athletics Leader coaching course next month when I turn 16 so I can coach under the supervision of a qualified coach.

I like being a member of the club because I have made friends at the club and also from other clubs we compete against. The training is good for my health and also for my Physical Education GCSE. Apart from running I have learned how to warm up and cool down properly and we have fundamental movement and core strength sessions.

Joining the club hasn’t just benefited me. When I joined the club my father stood watching on the sidelines but has now completed the Coaching Assistant and Athletics Coach courses and now coaches his own group of around 20 secondary school athletes. In addition to this my younger brother joined the club and has been quite successful in races. He won his race one Saturday at Victoria Park.

I hope that North Belfast Harriers continues to grow as it gives the children of North Belfast a club to be a part of. Many areas of North Belfast are deprived and have high levels of unemployment and any grants and funding means we don’t have to burden families with membership fees and clothing costs.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Olympic Moments: MARY PETERS (1972 Penathlon)

Mary Peters: 'Bombs were often going off as I trained in Belfast'

In the first of our new series celebrating Britain's top 10 Olympic moments, Mary Peters recalls her dramatic 1972 pentathlon gold (taken from the Independent)

Working and training in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s meant training for the Olympics was far different for me than for many other athletes.

When I was preparing for the 1972 Games in Munich, I was living at the north end of Belfast and I had to travel, with my shot put and starting blocks in hand, on a bus all the way to the other side of the city. There would often be bombs going off but I didn't know any other life; I just got on with it.

As the Munich Games got closer, however, I was fortunate enough to be able to leave Northern Ireland and, supported by the Churchill Fellowship, train for six weeks in America. It took me away from the Troubles and to a completely new environment and climate.
My pentathlon finals were played out over two days at the '72 Games. I was competing against the West German athlete Heide Rosendahl. She was not only the favourite, but she was also appearing in her home city.

So I knew I had to do something special and I really think my time in the sport – I was the most experienced athlete in my competition at 33 – paid off for me. The competition was split in two halves. I managed to achieve personal bests in the first three events – the 100m hurdles, the high jump and shot put. But I knew Heide's strongest events were the final two: the 200m and the long jump.

Despite the pressure of the events, it was the waiting around that was the worst thing for me. The break in the afternoon was awful, all I could think to do was to go back to the Olympic Village. It was only between noon and 6pm but it felt like I was there a year.
I had a cushion of something like 100 points going into the penultimate event and I ended up with a fairly average long jump. Heide then leapt 6.83m – one centimetre short of her world record. I knew then that the only way I could get Gold was to run a personal best in the sprint.

We flew out of the blocks and Heide finished 10 metres ahead of me. But the pentathlon is not about positions, it's about points. And we had to wait anxiously while the computer churned out the results.

When I realised I'd won gold, there was a wonderful feeling. She had finished in 22.96sec. I was 1.12sec further back, it was a new personal best and it was enough. I had the gold. I finished with 4,801 points – a new world record. Because of my age, I knew it was my last Olympics but what made it really special wasn't the win, but the news that my father had come over from Australia to watch. I hadn't seen him for five years and I saw him tell the BBC that he'd been watching me; I was so pleased to see him. I could see he was proud.
I left the Games with four personal bests out of five finals events and I believe that my experience had helped me build up the confidence I needed.

My life changed dramatically after Munich. Like almost all the athletes at the time, I was an amateur so I was also working as a home economics teacher. But after bringing home the gold I had the chance to help so many people in so many ways. I set up the Mary Peters Trust and we still celebrate my win at home in Northern Ireland. We're holding a party to commemorate the anniversary this year.

The Mary Peters Trust offers financial aid to young people trying to succeed in sport.

Golden girl: Mary Peters factfile

  • Born 6 July 1939 Halewood, Lancashire but moved to Ballymena aged 11. She now lives in Lisburn just outside Belfast
  • Olympic record In the 1972 Games she won gold in the pentathlon, having finished 4th in 1964 in Tokyo and 9th in 1968 in Mexico.
  • She represented Northern Ireland at every Commonwealth Games between 1958 and 1974. In those Games she won two golds in pentathlon, plus a gold and silver in the shot put.
  • Honours She was made a CBE in 1990, having been appointed MBE in 1972. In 2000 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Fascinating fact: Northern Ireland's premier athletics track, outside Belfast, is the Mary Peters Track managed by Athletics Northern Ireland.

Aileen Morrison: Three could be the magic number

With the best ever performance by an Irish triathlete at a world event under her belt, Aileen Morrison is ready for London, writes IAN O'RIORDAN in Irish Times on May 30th 2012

SHE STILL describes it as a ridiculous, crazy sport. She often questions the sacrifices involved. Now she can’t seem to get her head around the idea she’s going to the London Olympics as a possible medal contender.

So why exactly is Aileen Morrison so good at swimming, cycling and running around in quick succession? In the four years since taking up triathlon in the strictly competitive sense Morrison is at least sure of one thing: she loves this sport, as mad as it is.
 And while clearly blessed with natural reserves of strength and endurance, and carefully nurtured by the elite team at Triathlon Ireland, her rise up through the world rankings has been in perfect sync with Olympic qualification – still the absolute pinnacle in world triathlon.

This time last year, when Morrison first sensed London wasn’t just a dream anymore but a reality, her focus changed from just getting there to getting there in the best possible shape to contend for a medal. Last Saturday in Madrid she suggested exactly that, her silver medal in the World Series event the best ever performance by an Irish triathlete on the world stage, and better still against many of her chief rivals come August 4th, when Hyde Park plays host to the women’s Olympic triathlon.

Tomorrow the International Triathlon Union will confirm their top 55-ranked triathletes, men and women, to be nominated for London, and Morrison looks set to be ranked number seven.
 Based on the 14 best results over the last two years, Morrison was effectively safe at the end of the last year – and the opening races of 2012 were more about improving her strengths, mentally and physically, while eliminating the last of her weaknesses.  
“At the start of last year, I had no idea I would be going into the Olympics in this position,” she says. “It’s totally beyond what I thought I was capable of. I love making the podium at world events and coming home with some prize-money in the pocket, but making London really was the big goal.
 “And I know I can compete at that level. If you’re in the best shape of your life, and have the bit of luck, well I know I can compete with the best. And I just have to keep reminding myself of that. But I more or less knew from the end of last year.
 “With 55 places, there was no way I could be overtaken by 40-odd people. If anything it was up to me to move up the ladder, with a few better results.”
 It’s easily forgotten that the triathlon is not just a battle against yourself and your opponents, but also the conditions and the terrain. It was typically warm in Madrid last Saturday, and the 1,500-metre swim a typical scramble. Morrison exited the water in 36th place, tore into the very hilly 40km cycle, and promptly closed the 30-second gap on the leaders. She then lost around 12 seconds as the group of 30 split through the transition zone for the second time, and set off on the 10km run.
 Once again she promptly closed the gap, then eased in front as they approached the second of two loops.  
“I tried to push it on a wee bit,” she says, “and thought we might lose a couple of people, and it’ll make it easier when I get to the last lap.”

Entering the last kilometre, Morrison had a world-leading trio for company in Nicola Sprig of Switzerland, Barbara Riveros Diaz of Chile and Anne Haug of Germany. Undaunted, she actually offered them a drink, knowing they had missed the last water station.
 Shortly after that Sprig made the first kick for home, with Morrison chasing hard.

“In that last 800 metres I honestly thought I was going to finish fourth. My legs were like jelly, so I really couldn’t believe I managed to hold on for silver.”  
While this result possibly surprised Morrison, and she had the fastest run split of the lot, it merely confirmed what Chris Jones has been saying about her for the past four years – that she has the talent to mix it with the very best.
And Jones should know: as high performance director with Triathlon Ireland, he first identified her potential back in 2007, when Morrison won the National Championships in Lough Neagh, while still a part-timer. Jones invited her into his high performance group, and a year later she was competing as a full-time professional.  
She is, in other words, a product of the triathlon “system” in Ireland, rather than the other way around – although that’s not saying she wasn’t always good at swimming, cycling and running: she just never figured she’d be so good at doing three of them in quick succession.

Like many triathletes, swimming was Morrison’s first sport. Growing up in Derry, the family would spend most summers at Malin Head and the surrounding beaches, and thus were inevitably drawn to the water. Her dad was keen to ensure they were strong swimmers too, although Morrison was more inspired by her older sister, Ruth, who went on to swim for Ireland.

Morrison was then drawn to cross country running, at secondary school, and it was there she first tried the triathlon, “purely for fun”, in a very minor schools race, and on a borrowed bike. That was her casual approach too during college at Liverpool Hope – where she gained an honours degree in Health and Physical Recreation – and also at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown – where she gained a teaching cert in Physical Education.

In many ways then Morrison was always cut out for a life in professional sport. She spent seven summers on Donegal beaches working as a lifeguard, which she describes as the “best job ever” and, before going full-time into triathlon, also worked for two years as a development officer with Athletics Northern Ireland.

These days she has her own development team designed to maximise her talents in swimming, cycling and running. She admits that four years ago she just about knew how to sit on a bike and move her legs: now as part of her preparations for London she’s working with Triathlon Ireland cycling coach Tommy Evans, who regularly oversees the repeat sessions up Scarva Hill, just outside Banbridge. The best part about that session, says Morrison, is when it’s done.  
Now living in Lisburn, she also utilises the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland for all her sports science back-up, including regular Vo2 Max and lactate threshold testing. She swims with Lisburn City club, and cycles with Maryland Wheelers, as often as possible, but triathlon, by its very nature, still demands long hours of lonely training, especially given she typically puts in four training sessions a day.  
She turns 30 next month, the age when most elite triathletes are approaching their peak: Morrison believes she still has plenty more improving to do, especially on the bike, where fearlessness is as important a tactic as ruthlessness.  
For now, with Olympic qualification safely secured, the next eight weeks are all about fine-tuning her swimming, cycling and running, with a couple more test races, and finally a block of high altitude training in Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Indeed every single day is ticked off between now and Saturday, August 4th. When you’re effectively training for three different sports at the Olympics there really is no time to lose.

  • 1,500 hours training per year
  • 6,200 km running per year
  • 15,600 km cycling per year
  • 2,080 km swimming per year
  • 83,200 lengths of a 25m pool per year
  • 1.6 millions swim strokes per year
  • 260 hours in the gym
  • 1 million calories burnt training per year
  • 23,200 calories burnt training per week
  • 29 litres of sweat lost per training week
  • 20 pairs of runners worn out per year

Friday, 11 May 2012

My UK School Games Experience 2012

By Jane Anderson

On the way to the airport I was feeling quite nervous about going away, and running in the Olympic stadium!

When I got to the airport my nerves settled a bit as I knew most of the Athletic Team. One of my best friends was there Erin Quinn. We roomed together which was really good fun but also good for our performances as we are equally focused on competing.

After we got to the hotel we got our rooms and kits sorted and it was a quick change to go to the opening dinner for the UKSG at the Excel Centre. All the different teams were at the dinner and the whole Northern Ireland team sat together. This allowed us to get to know the athletes from the other sports and get some full team photos.

On the second day we went to the Excel Centre to watch all the different sports, and to get our lunch and dinner. I watched badminton, volleyball and gymnastics! The gymnastics was amazing! On the third day we went to the Excel Centre again to watch more sports like hockey, netball and fencing.

At last racing day arrived! When I woke up I didn’t feel nervous. I went and got breakfast and got ready to leave for the Olympic Stadium. It wasn’t until I got on the bus that the nerves hit me. When I got to the stadium I was excited my nerves had went away it was amazing the stadium was massive! I had the time of my life in London, the racing was amazing I had a good race until I hit my knee and nearly fell!

I came 6th but it was the experience that counts. I loved every moment of it. I ran 12.3 not the personal best I was hoping for but I can put this down to experience. The Olympic stadium was fantastic! Best thing I’ve ever done in my whole life.

Thank you to all the Northern Ireland Team Managers who help make this experience possible.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

50 Years and Counting....

By Athletics NI President John Glover

To mark the 50th Anniversary of joining Duncairn Nomads John Glover has did a Review of 1962.
On Monday 5th March 1962, at the invitation of Jimmy Cummings, I made my way from my East Belfast home across the city by two buses to Twaddell Avenue on the Woodvale Road to join Duncairn Nomads. Almost exactly 50 years later I will step down from my two year stint as President of Athletics Northern Ireland. An amazing journey and one which I hope will continue for a few years yet.
Life in Belfast  half a century ago was a very different experience to that which prevails today. The ‘Troubles’ were still a few years away, house phones let alone mobiles were few and far between; television was a couple of channels and the Queen was just a youngster with only ten years under her belt.
As the year began Z Cars with Jimmy Ellis was just starting on the small screen while in the cinema a little girl by the name of Hayley Mills was starring in ‘Pollyanna’.  Fifty years later, and still as beautiful as always, Hayley has switched to the small screen starring in the safari park programme called “Wild at Heart”.  The ‘pop generation’ were sucking their throat lozenges and polishing their winkle pickers in preparation for the impending visit of ‘Cliff Richard and the Shadows’. 
In the world of athletics Cross Country was paramount with a short eight week period of road  races followed by a Track and Field season with a two tier league structure and then back to the serious stuff again in October. If there is one link between 1962 and 2012 it is that T.J. Welsh was the timekeeper then and now but the Queen took all of that next 50 years before she decided to give the man his well deserved MBE.
When asked the winners of the ‘Junior’ and ‘Senior’ Cross Country in 2012 future historians will answer  Jarleth Falls and Joe McAllister. The answer to the same question relating to 1962 is more complicated as there were two of each. The ‘Northern Ireland’ Junior was won by an ‘unknown’ youngster from Portadown College called Les Jones while the equivalent ‘Senior’ was won by Derek Graham. Both in future years would, in their different ways, write their names large in the annals of athletics both at home and abroad. The teams titles went to Duncairn Harriers and 9th Old Boys respectively – neither remain in existence.
In what I like to call the ‘parallel universe’ of the Ulster Council of the NACA the 43rd War Memorial Junior Cross Country took place on Sunday 7th January at Lurgan with team honours going to Laragh ahead of Limavady and West Belfast – like their NI counterparts they too have drifted into history. The individual champion was Pat Callaghan of Bailieboro ahead of Armagh’s Johnny Toner and local man Pat McGibben. Laragh also took the Ulster Senior title with victory going to Sheffield based Francie McDermott ahead of Derry man George Williamson.
Thankfully, despite the fact that it still requires two separate bodies to control the sport in this massive land mass of Ulster,  at least this year the magnificent War Memorial Trophy was contested by the best of both organisations.
While the Ulster Council held their first championship in the first weekend of January the NIAAA clubs were preparing for their season with ‘combined runs’ and club races. On Saturday 6th Jnauary for example members of Duncairn Nomads, Lisnagarvey, Co. Antrim and Hollerith got together for a ‘friendly’ training run divided up into ability groups each with a ‘hare’ and a ‘whip’. In East Belfast, Willowfield Temperance Harriers held their McKeagh Cup over 3 miles and McCullough Cup over 7 miles with wins for Trevor Orman and Henry Pairs.
The track fraternity entered what was for them a big year with the Empire Games being held in Perth Australia late in the year. Dick McColgan, who would in later years become the local ‘guru’ of the Empire and Commonwealth Games, was leading the Winter indoor coaching sessions at Victoria Barracks in Belfast attended by most of the leading athletes and coaches like Mary Peters, Sean and Maeve Kyle, Don McBride and Des Price.
The main action of the early months however was the Cross Country and life did not end with the Northern Ireland Championships. Next on the fixture list was the All Ireland Championships and following that the elite went on to represent their country in the International Cross Country Championships, with one very important provisio!
The venue for the 1962 All Ireland was Dundonald and victory went South of the border in the forme of Donore’s Mick Neville. Neville thus became the first man in the modern era (since 1938) to win both the national Junior and Senior titles in the same season. First local man home was Derek Graham in sixth place. A few weeks later Graham produced a great performance to finish runner up in the English National Junior Cross Country.
With the International Cross Country looming Northern Ireland was once again embroiled in a “will we or won’t we” scenario. The ICCU at that time comprised just 12 countries having grown from what was the original ‘Home Countries’ plus France. The Congress consisted of representatives from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Eire, France, Holland, Belguim,  Portugal, Tunisia, Morocco and Spain and it was the latter who were annoying the Northern Ireland AAA on this occasion.
The 1963 event was due to be held in San Sebastian on March 17th and Northern Ireland were not happy. The problem was not that it was St. Patrick’s Day but that it was a Sunday and Northern Ireland did not run on a Sunday either at home or abroad. A similar situation in 1961 in Nantes had seen a withdrawal. Needless to say the Spaniards were not prepared to budge as Sunday competition was the norm on the continent and a switch to the previous day could mean a massive loss in revenue.
In fact there was nothing on the local statute books which supported the ‘Never on Sunday’ dictate. However since no team was ever picked to compete and at home no events were organised the status quo prevailed. Opinions however were changing and when Tom Williamson of DUncairn Harriers put forward a motion to the NIAAA AGM:
“That any athlete belonging to NIAAA shall not participate in any competition inside or outside Northern Ireland on a Sunday”
the motion was defeated and the Province began a very slow process of becoming ‘Europeanised’ with personal conscience acting as the arbiter.  The decision however was not universally accepted and led to several resignations and not too friendly ‘discussions’ taking place in the local press. It would also  be a long time before a NIAAA event was organised on  Sunday on home soil.

It was not only the Sunday Observance school of thought which had many outsiders scratching their heads. An unwary spectator at the Queen’s University Championships in 1962 might have thought that he had fallen asleep and woken up on a different continent. The Champions were dominated by African students and in particular Ghanaians. The 100  yards was won by Joe Riverson, 120 yards hurdles, High Jump and Hop Step and Jump (Triple Jump) by Gordon Ziddah, the Pole Vault by J.M.K.Ekue and the Shot Putt by G.K.Deh.  Strengthened by these athletes Queen’s contested a triangular match against St. Andrews and Glasgow Universities with the visitors taking victory in the 440 yards through one M. Campbell who subsequently became Sir Menzies Campbell, British Olympian and leader of the Liberal Democrats in Westminster.
Queen’s also were victorious in the Londonderry Trophy and looked forward to success in the Irish Universities Championships. Sadly they were to be disappointed falling foul of the ‘curse of Irish Athletics’!  Queen’s were banned from the Championships on the grounds that some of their athletes were members of the NACAI despite the fact that the event was a ‘Closed Championships.’ The British Board declined to sanction their entry and the NIAAA played ‘Pontius Pilate’. While the local athletes were disappointed and angry the African contingent were in their own words ‘mystified’. Fifty years on the ‘mysteries’ of athletics organisation on the Island of Ireland continues to baffle many!
If opinions were strongly held so too was the principle of club loyalty and this was  admirably illustrated by Billy McCue. While the Universities’ competed at Cherryvale the Northern Ireland Six Mile Track Championship was fought out over 24 laps of Aircraft Park a few miles away. Billy McCue took the title in 31:19.3 and promptly jumped in his car for a drive to Ballymena to represent his club in a match against visitors Crusaders from Dublin. A win over 1 mile was followed by second over twice that distance. As if that was not enough the RUC Constable then donned his uniform and went on duty for the rest of the night!
Fellow Ballymena athletes Maeve Kyle and Mary Peters were also in the news. Maeve set a Northern Ireland All Comers Record of 56.9 then the fastest in the UK at the time and went to London for the WAAA Championships where in the heat she added the UK All Comers Record to her palmares with a superb 54.9. Mary meanwhile achieved her first International success winning a Pentathlon against Holland and Belguim with 4420 points to go second on the British All Time list. Ten years later she would take the Olympic title in this event in Munich.
International athletics came to Belfast with the Scotland ves Ireland match at what was then Celtic Park, now the Park Shopping Centre. Dave Davidson, the father of a future Ulster Rugby hero Jeremy Davidson, set an Irish National Record in the Shot Putt and Des Price set new NI All Comers figures in the 120 yards hurdles running 14.6 secs on grass. Hero of the Scots was again Ming Campbell winning both the Furlong and the Quarter Mile.
In October another short road racing season began as usual with the Larne Road Relays for the Ferris Trophy with victory going to 9th Old Boys ahead of Duncairn Harriers and Willowfield. The latter had better success in the opening Cross Country race, the McConnell Shield at Ballyclare taking both team and individual honours with Colin Shillington. The race was held in a bitter cold wind with runners having to contend with a ‘mud bath’.
Several thousand miles away conditions were totally different as the Empire games got underway in Perth, Australia.  Five athletes had been named in a small team which travelled ‘down under’ but there was to be no medals for Thelma Hopkins, Mary Peters, Joan Atkinson, Dick Miller or Dave Davidson a situation which resulted in the usual recriminations back at home. Interestingly another member of the Northern Ireland team was Buster McShane, a weight-lifter, and it was he and Mary Peters who would create a Coach/Athlete partnership which would lead to Olympic Glory ten years later.