AILEEN Morrison will plunge into the Serpentine at London’s Hyde Park tomorrow morning as she fulfils her burning ambition of competing in the Olympic Games.
And it will be an outstanding achievement for the talented Culmore triathlete who has catapulted to the top of her sport just four years after attending a Triathlon Ireland ‘Identification Day’ where Ireland’s High Performance Coach, Chris Jones, took her under his wing.
Jones had spotted the potential in the Derry woman and helped mould her into Ireland’s best female triathlete whose career highlights so far include a silver medal in both the ITU World Triathlon races in Madrid and in the Ishijaki World Cup race in Japan this year plus a bronze medal in the Hamburg World Championship race in 2010.
At 9 a.m. tomorrow she will become Derry’s EIGHTH Olympian, following in the footsteps of Anton Hegarty (Antwerp 1920 and Amsterdam 1928), Liam Ball (Mexico 1968, Munich 1972), Charlie Nash (Munich 1972), Terry Watt (Munich 1972), Neil McLaughlin (Munich 1972), Roisin Smyth (Los Angeles, 1984) and Elaine McLaughlin (Seoul, 1988).
At around 11 a.m., just over two hours after entering the iconic river in the English capital, her Olympic fate will be decided and while the 30 years-old has played down her chances of finishing on the podium, secretly she will believe she has the potential to medal.
The City of Derry Spartan enters tomorrow’s Olympic Triathlon ranked seventh in the world and although Great Britain’s Helen Jenkins and Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig are two of the strong favourites to claim gold, Morrison claims any one from 15 of the top triathletes are contenders for the top spot.
“I’m ready to rock and roll,” she insisted. “I can only do what I can do and I’ll certainly give it my best shot on Saturday.
“To say I’m not capable of getting a medal would be a lie,” she added. “I know I’m capable of competing with the best in the world.
“It’s not impossible, but that would mean everything going right on the day; with a little bit of luck on my side and being at my best, so we’ll see.”
Anything Can Happen
Indeed, anything can happen on the day, especially in the 1.5 kms swim leg where the race can be won or lost. An extremely quick swim is anticipated and that’s exactly what Aileen has been focusing on.
Despite a disappointing display in her last ITU World Series race in Hamburg last month, she has taken some confidence from her performance in the swim.
“I’ve been focusing on coming out of the water and being prepared for a very difficult bike ride.
“But all the hard work’s been done in preparing for this race and I’m just going to enjoy it and see what happens.”
Her coaches, Tommy Evans and Jones, will have prepared for every eventuality in tomorrow’s race and Aileen knows exactly what to expect from the gruelling course having finished 18th in the ITU World Championship Series in London in what was the dress rehersal for tomorrow’s event.
“I’ve done the test event in London last year so I’ve got a fairly good idea what to expect. I would like to think I could finish in the top 10 and I’d be disappointed to finish outside of the top 15.
“There are roughly 15 girls who can win this race as we’ve had so many different winners over the series of world races so anything can happen on the day.
“Realistically a very good position for me would be top 10. I wouldn’t be too disappointed if I was top 15, but if I could finish top five that would blow my mind.”
The race starts from a pontoon on the north side of the Serpentine and athletes will dive in for one long 1.5 km lap.
Great Britain’s Lucy Hall will be expected to set the pace but Aileen will be hopeful of exiting the water in the second or third pack to give her the best possible chance in the seven-lap, 43 kms bike leg.
While the bike is admittingly not Aileen’s strongest discipline, she will be hoping to be in contention if the race comes down to the four lap technical 10 kms run.
The Spartan will be among the best of the runners alongside Gwen Jorgensen (USA), Anja Dittmer (Germany), Emma Jackson (Australia) and Sweden’s Lisa Norden and if it all boils down to the 10 kms run, she would be in with every chance of running into a top 10 finish.
Trip to Rio in 2016
Whatever happens tomorrow in London, it will be just another step in her remarkable journey and she is already planning on competing at the Olympics in Brazil 2016.
“I want to compete with the best in the world because I know I can,” she claims. “But just competing at the Olympics is not good enough anymore.
“I’m looking forward to 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Rio Olympics in 2016 after London.”
The women’s Triathlon competition at the London 2012 Games gets underway at 9 a.m. tomorrow.