The North West held its breath on Saturday morning as Olympic Triathlon hopeful Aileen Morrison gave her all in the gruelling women’s event.
She was tipped by many to finish in the top ten after a fantastic build up to London 2012. In the end, she finished 43rd after she crashed to the ground when her bike skidded on the first lap of the 43km cycle near Buckingham Palace. But to her many supporters in Derry, Donegal, throughout Ireland and shouting from the roadside at Hyde Park, she was nothing less than an Olympic hero.
Dozens of supporters, including many of her clubmates from North West Triathlon Club, gathered at Waterloo Place at breakfast time on Saturday morning to cheer on the Culmore athlete - nicknamed the ‘Green Flash’ - in the biggest race of her life. Joe Doherty, of NWTC, said everyone at the club was very proud of her brave and magnificent achievements. “It just didn’t come together for her, she had a hard swim, there was a breakaway in the swim which she wasn’t in on and then she crashed on the bike. She shouldn’t be disappointed because I think she did us all proud.”
In Hyde Park a contingent of North West Triathlon Club members waved flags and roared support for the 30 year-old as she emptied her fuel tank after a difficult start.
Peter McLaughlin, who watched the action unfold from the roadside, said: “Great performance by Aileen in London - she gave it everything. And we were proud to be there.”
Having finished the swim in 37th place, the Derry triathlete skidded off her bike at a corner where several other competitors also crashed to the ground. It was later suggested that there was oil on that particular stretch of the course. She said after the race: “As I came round the first lap at Buckingham Palace, I just came down on that corner and it happened in slow motion,” she said. “I was sore but I thought if I could stand up and get on my bike then I was going to keep going. I didn’t spend four years training to give up on the first lap.” She added: “I wasn’t here to win a medal, I was here to give it everything and I gave it everything.”
In her blog she paid tribute to everyone who supported her. “Just want to say a huge thank you to everyone. All the Derry, Lisburn and Malin Head supporters. And to everyone who got up at 6am to cheer and wave Irish flags in Hyde park, you guys were everywhere. You all were the ones who helped me get up off the ground and back on my bike. Love u (sic) all.” Aileen now has her eyes set on the Commonwealth Games before preparing for another Olympic opportunity in Brazil in 2016. On Saturday Aileen became Derry’s eighth Olympian after Anton Hegarty (Antwerp 1920 and Amsterdam 1928), Liam Ball (Mexico 1986, Munich 1972) Charlie Nash (Munich 1972), Terry Watt (Munich 1972) Neil McLaughlin (Munich 1972), Roisin Smyth (Los Angeles 1984) and Elaine McLaughlin (Seoul 1988).