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.