Former Olympic hurdles star Derval O’Rourke has called for full-time coaches for elite athletes if Ireland is to take advantage of what she described as the “unbelievable amount of talent in this country”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today Programme, O’Rourke said that elite athletes were full-time but their coaches for the most part were volunteers, and contrasted the facilities available to athletics with those available to Ireland’s boxers.
“If you look at the boxers, there’s a national training centre, they’ve a great facility there,” O’Rourke said. “They have full-time coaches. That’s one of the massive things in athletics; my coaches were volunteers my whole career.
“There’s one full-time coach in endurance in Irish Athletics, but that position was only made last year.
“How can you be professional if you don’t have full-time coaches? It makes no sense to me. So that’s something that I think they need to look at. It’s like kind of going to a swimming pool and having no water in it and wondering why you can’t swim.”
"I struggled a little bit with hockey because I didn’t really pass the ball"
O’Rourke said she was proud that most of her career and training had been based in Ireland, rather than abroad, and that facilities were improving.
“There wasn’t really a structure or a set-up for sprinters in Ireland [early in her career]. We’re a very distance-orientated country, and the fact that we were able to build something here, it was very home-grown – I think that was something we were always really proud of when we went to championships.”
She singled out as “unbelievable” a new indoor track in Athlone and suggested that replicating this elsewhere would be beneficial in developing athletics in Ireland.
“I would love to see the same thing now down in Cork, and there is a plan for one in Dublin in the next five years.
“I think it’s really important that we have indoor facilities. You need to get kids in when they’re 11-12, and you’re trying to get them to run over hurdles, if it’s lashing rain and freezing cold, it’s kind of a hard sell.”
The former World and European medallist backed Ireland’s raw talent to shine in the facilities were put in place and said there were a lot of athletes who could win medals.
“I think, in terms of talent, we have an unbelievable amount of talent in this country for the size of it,” he said.
"It’s like going to a swimming pool and having no water in it and wondering why you can’t swim"
The 33-year-old, who retired from athletics last month, said that her motivation for training had diminished as her ability to compete had lowered.
“I just kind of decided I couldn’t be competitive this summer to win medals,” she said. “That just made me not really want to do it.”
The three-time Olympian that she had never envisaged going to Rio in 2016, but that she felt she could have maintained a high standard next year. However, she indicated that she was leaving the sport without regret.
“The sacrifices started feeling a little bit too much now, so I was happy enough to walk away,” she said.
Reflecting on her career, she identified the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as her best chance for an Olympic medal, but said “I just had a bad year”.
“I just wasn’t ready to run it that year,” she said. “I got sick just before Beijing.”
Revealing a little of the mindset that helped her achieve such success in a solo sport, O’Rourke outlined her past as a hockey player, and contrasted it with the appeal of athletics.
“I like to take responsibility for everything, so I struggled a little bit with hockey because I didn’t really pass the ball,” she joked.
“The competitiveness side of athletics, you’re absolutely out there on your own, you have to figure it out yourself, and I like that, that’s something that appeals to me.”