Derry’s Tori now in pole position for Olympics

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Mexican-Irish pole vaulter Tori Peña whose grandmother is from Derry has just finished competing in the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Paris.

And Tori, who competes for Ireland because of the granny rule says she’s looking ahead to qualifying for the Olympics in 2012.

A former competitive Irish dancer, Tori, 23, has a connection to Derry through her maternal grandmother Angela Coyle and holds Dual Citizenship.

She recently competed in the Irish Indoor Nationals in Belfast and then – via a stop in Scotland – was travelling on to Paris for the European Athletics Indoor Championships.

Going into the Irish event she was the national record holder and ranked number one, but on competition day she was missing something vital: her poles.

And it’s not the first time this has happened. The last time Angela lost her poles when they were sent by ariline so this time she sent them by courier service. They arrived safely at customs in Belfast, but when the assigned collector wasn’t sure how many poles were in the package, things ground to a halt:

“It was a big deal. I was really disappointed, but you have to figure it out and make it happen,” she said.

Her bad luck continued when she had some hip trouble – a common complaint amongst pole vaulters – but she somehow managed to borrow a pole, and, despite then being allocated the number 13, her efforts at the Odyssey Arena earned another first place finish with 4.10m/13ft 4”.

Originally based in Dublin after flying in from California, she managed to squeeze in a visit to the Guinness Brewery before coming to Belfast, and then after the competition she went to Donegal to spend time at her club, Finn Valley Athletic:

“I did some rehab for my hip and was resting up for Scotland and Paris. A lot of my time was spent figuring out what was going on with the poles!”

After picking up the poles up from the courier depot in Omagh, she and other team members drove on to Belfast and caught the ferry across to Scotland and then drove down to Glasgow to compete in the Scottish Championships:

“I wasn’t sure I should even attend, but we wanted to establish a good connection with the coaching staff there and planned this trip beforehand. It was ideal for some practice before Paris.”

She notes on her blog at www.toripena.com that “it was pretty great jumping on my poles for the first time in 2 weeks!” and they helped her to another first place and a new Irish indoor record of 4.31m (14ft ‘1”). A few days after being the Guest Starter for the Finn Valley 5K race, it was off to Paris – with her poles safely in the hold – for the 31st European Athletics Indoor Championships.

Though it was the first time she had competed in this event, she once again broke her own Irish record – and her indoor Personal Best – by clearing 4m 35/14ft 3”, and finishing in 12th place:

“Paris was great! It was a great stadium, and it was so exciting watching my teammates compete. My experience at the (European Championships) in Barcelona last year helped me know what I was in for mentally, and I was really pleased with my performance. I came really close to 4.45 and would love to have made it.”

Now back in her home of Huntington Beach, Tori’s started training again yesterday – but won’t be jumping competitively for a while:

“I’m going to really rest up, get more physio for my hip and take a rest from jumping. I probably won’t compete again until May, and will go until the end of August – I don’t want to peak too early.”

Tori is planning to be in Europe a lot more over the summer season, with the goal of qualifying for the World Championships in Korea – and then hopefully the Olympics in 2012.

But it’s going to take work:

“For Korea, the qualifying A Standard is 4.50, the B Standard 4.40. The B Standard is what the Irish team will go with, but then the 2012 Olympics will be 4.50. I’m going to go for it!”

This week is St. Patrick’s Day though, and Tori will be taking a break for that:

“A friend of our family owns O’Malley’s, an Irish pub in Seal Beach, so we’ll be going in there for a pint or two.”