The Lows of Sport

I am devastated and deeply hurt not to have been selected for the NICWG team for the 2018 CWG Gold Coast.
Under the Athletics NI Selection Policy, as a steeplechaser, I was required to achieve two sub-9:54 performances during the summer season of 2017 – effectively between mid-May and the beginning of September. Unfortunately, I picked up an injury in the first race of the season in May, really at the worst possible time – that is the cruel unpredictability of sport.
I had come into the season in the best shape of my life, had run an indoor 1500m PB and competed at the European Indoors in Belgrade in early March. I had done a solid 3 weeks at altitude during April and went into that first race of the season, a 5000m, in lifetime best shape. I was well inside my 5000m PB with less than 2k to go, then, my calf pinged.

The instinct is to panic; the qualification window was small and now I was injured. I received fantastic support from a brilliant physio Kerry Kirk at the Sports Institute, a sensible recovery cross-training plan from Richard, my coach and great encouragement from Tom Reynolds of Athletics NI, my hurdles coach.
In mid-July I recorded 9:54.4 in Gothenburg in Sweden, only 0.4 seconds outside the standard and only 4 days later I ran 9:50.75 in Belgium. It was still outside my best, but I was delighted – one standard done. Unfortunately, in hindsight, I rushed into too many races – chasing the standards – not letting the base recover sufficiently and then I ran out of time to achieve the 2nd one I needed.

Unfortunately this left me 13th from 15 athletes, put forward to the Commonwealth Games (CWG) Council on the Athletics NI nomination list and athletics was awarded 11 places for the Gold Coast, meaning 4 of us missed out. 
As I said at the beginning, I’m devastated, it is my opinion and my judgement only, but I believe that the Athletics NI Selection Policy was flawed in that it allowed no scope for injury to be taken into account. Furthermore other athletics disciplines had up to 13 months to achieve required standards, whereas with the injury I was left with little over 2 months to achieve 2 standards in a tough endurance event.

Rio , Brazil – 13 August 2016; Kerry O’Flaherty of Ireland in action during round 1 of the Women’s 3000m steeplechase in the Olympic Stadium, Maracanã, during the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

We wrote to the CWG Council on the morning of the announcement having been informed that I hadn’t made the cut. They replied in detail 24 hours later saying that the Australian Organising Committee had awarded NI 69 individual places (compared to 104 in Glasgow in 2014) and that these had been spread among 11 different sports with all sports receiving less than in 2014 apart from boxing and lawn bowls (due to their good medal records).

They also said that Athletics, despite having only one top 8 finish in 2014, had retained a strong team presence due to the representations made by Athletics NI emphasising the progress that their athletes had made over the past couple of years. It’s ironic for me and deepens my disappointment that I was a significant part of that progress, making World Championships in Beijing in 2015 and the Rio Olympics in 2016 and yet I find myself left out.

Some 3 weeks ago the rumour mill started to suggest that Athletics would only have 10 places and the CWG Council in its reply today indicates that Athletics NI had been aware for some time that this was likely to be the case – in the event an 11th place was secured.
For me the issue is one of fairness and equity, surely it cannot be right that someone, currently ranked 64th in the world at steeplechase (I’m the 3rd highest ranking Northern Ireland athlete in the current world rankings – behind Ciara and Leon), ranked 14th in the Commonwealth (based on an injury-hit 2017 season) and in the injury-free seasons of 2015 and 2016 would have been ranked in the top 7 in the Commonwealth, is left at home while some in other sports who are not ranked in the top 300 in the world are selected to go (and that is not to take away from what they are achieving in their own discipline)?
In December I finished higher up in the European Cross-Country Championships than I had ever done before – I am in the shape of my life and hopefully I can go on and smash my steeplechase PB this coming summer and make it a big stepping stone towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. 

I am an Olympian, I’ve competed at the World Championships and I’ve made the final of the European Championships. I will re-double my efforts to improve further at the next European Championships in Berlin this August.
I’ve had knock backs and disappointment before and I’ve come back stronger, so I have promised myself I will bounce back from this one too. 
Good luck to all the TeamNI athletes competing at the Gold Coast – enjoy the experience and embrace the opportunity to compete at a great competition. 
Thank you to everyone that has messaged me with their kind words of support and to my sponsors, coach and family who are still proud of me no matter what… it is very much appreciated. 

Ireland’s Kerry O’flaherty competes in the Women’s 3000m Steeplechase Round 1 during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 13, 2016. / AFP / Adrian DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

*Featured image ; Kerry O’Flaherty, Steeplechase Final, 2014 Commonwealth Games, Glasgow (photo credit; Keith McClure)