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London Calling

London Calling - Robert Heffernan

London Calling captures the ecstatic highs and crushing lows as Ireland's top athletes - across a range of disciplines - train, compete and try to qualify for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This brand new six-part series follows the medal hopefuls as the tension builds before big qualifying events and joining in the thrill of competition, as the athletes strive to reach London 2012.

Focusing not just on the sporting achievements of the participants, this observational documentary series also draws a clearer picture of these exceptional people and how they balance a world-class training regimes with living their everyday lives.

Drawn from urban and rural backgrounds, from across Ireland, the would-be Olympians compete in a wide range of disciplines - Boxing, Discus, Triathlon, Sprinting, Three Day Eventing, Walking, Long Distance Running, and Cycling - with a mix of first timers full of hunger and expectation to experienced Olympians who know how much sacrifice and pain lies ahead. While we would like all our athletes to win gold medals, inevitably for some, the path to London will end in disappointment.

Taking place against a backdrop of economic hardship, many of our sporting hopefuls struggle to finance their dream of representing the nation, while having to stay focused on the end game. As they train to be one of the world's best, London Calling also shines a light on the effect this level of dedication has on their lives away from the arena and the impact this level of commitment has on the personal and private lives.

This behind-the-scenes documentary will also give a first person insight into the most up-to-date training and techniques that are available at High Performance training centres around the country.

Athletes featured in the series are:

Robert Heffernan, a race walker from Douglas, Cork, and three-time Olympian who could finally achieve his dream of a medal in the Olympics while his wife Marian Heffernan tries to qualify for her first in the Women's 4 x 400m.

Orla Barry who overcame the loss of both legs as a child to reach a major final as an 18 year old and who will be aiming for Gold in the Paralympic Discus.

Camilla Speirs the bright young star of Irish Three Day Eventing who trains her own horses.

Ciaran O'Lionaird the young middle distance runner mixing it with the world's best as part of the Nike Oregon Project.

Michael McKillop a middle distance runner with Cerebral Palsy who is not only Paralympic 800m Champion but also regularly competes with able bodied athletes.

Kieran Behan who had to learn how to walk again as a teenager but is now only the second gymnast to represent Ireland at the Olympics.

Brian Gregan a 21-year-old 400m sprinter trying to make the breakthrough.

Aileen Morrison Ireland's leading female triathlete and ranked among the world's best.

Mark Kenneally a long-distance runner who is looking to qualify for the marathon while running a business full time.

Jamie Costin the Olympic walker as he makes his way back from a broken back while helping out on the family dairy farm.

Catherine Walsh already a five-time Paralympian, with two kids and a full time job who has managed to learn a new discipline and become a World Champion in tandem cycling.

Kenny Egan as he hoped against hope that he would be able to catch a break to get back into the Olympic team after losing his place and National Championship crown.

Episodes

Programme 1 of 6

As Robert Heffernan, 20km and 50km racewalker heads off for warm weather training, his wife, 400m sprinter Marian Heffernan has to juggle childcare with preparing for the European Indoor Championships in Paris giving an insight on how a couple, who happen to be elite athletes, balance their relationship and family life, while trying to qualify for the biggest sporting event on the planet. With a successful career in middle distance and cross country races behind him, 29 year old Mark Kenneally attempts to make his mark on the international stage in a distance he has never run before having also just started his own business and got engaged to his long time girlfriend Edel.

Programme 2 of 6

Kenneth Egan was one of Ireland's heroes from the 2008 Games, winning a silver medal. But the success went to his head. Having got his feet back on the ground and won his battle against drink, Kenneth has to overcome the teenage sensation Joe Ward. London Calling follows Egan as he strives to achieve a record 11th National title and secure his place in London in two massive bouts against the young pretender.

Catherine Walsh is a five time Paralympian having competed in a range of events spanning two decades and is one of Ireland's few world champions- having won the 3km tandem bike pursuit gold in Los Angeles in 2012. She has overcome her severe visual impairment to be one of the nation's most prolific athletes, but is also a mother to Alison (8) and Conor (5), who have sight difficulties, while also working as a physiotherapist in Lusk HSE Community Unit.

Episode 1 saw Mark Kenneally narrowly miss out on Olympic qualification in his first ever marathon in Vienna. He gears up for his second attempt by trying to learn more about the event while also preparing for his wedding day. In October 2011 Mark travels to Amsterdam to run only his second attempt at the distance to get under the qualification time and achieve his Olympic dream. But will he be able to fulfil fiancé Edel's dreams for her big day?

Programme 3 of 6

Jamie Costin is a 50km race walker who has qualified for three previous Olympics but only competed in two. He broke his back in a car crash just before the Athens Games and his return to competition and qualifying for the Beijing Olympics was a story of triumph against the odds in the face of adversity. The episode begins with a focus on how he juggles his full time training with working on the family farm in the Ring Gaeltacht, Co Waterford. We then follow him as he follows the arduous course to qualify for the Olympics one last time. His journey takes us to Melbourne, Belfast and Dudince in Slovakia, but not all goes according to plan.

Aileen Morrison was all set to become a teacher, but outstanding results as a 'have a go' athlete in triathlons brought her to the attention of the coaches who could see her potential to compete on the global stage. Despite this she has always tried to keep close to the grassroots of sport and still trains with the local swimming and cycling clubs. As a relative novice competing in elite events, the road was not always smooth. A crash in London in 2009, on the Olympic course threatened to derail her qualification campaign. London Calling follows her and her parents as they return to race in the 2011 London Olympic test event, her last opportunity to exorcise the demons of her previous wreck. Since then she has gone from strength to strength and with the support of her family and boyfriend David, she has been winning medals on the international circuit, and has a real chance to make an impact in London.

Despite being only 23 Kieran Behan has every kind of injury imaginable- torn cruciate ligaments, broken bones, a botched operation that led to nerve damage in his leg and a head injury that left him unconscious for 10 days. However none of these setbacks, or being told he would never walk again, could keep him from trying to get back to his only love- gymnastics. Born to Irish parents in London he has never forgotten his roots. At the test event In January he became only the second Irishman to get to the Olympics in gymnastics and the first to ever qualify by right. London Calling explores the pain and suffering of Kieran and his mother Bernie, and shines a light on the strength of character he has needed to work his way back onto the biggest sporting stage.

Programme 4 of 6

Jamie Costin is a 50km race walker who has qualified for three previous Olympics but only competed in two. He broke his back in a car crash just before the Athens Games and his return to competition and qualifying for the Beijing Olympics was a story of triumph against the odds in the face of adversity. This episode focuses on his return to fitness, despite doctor's advice. He then travels to Saransk in Russia for the Race Walking World Cup, the final chance for this three time Olympic warrior to make it four. But all is not well back at the farm....

Orla Barry is a 22-year-old discus thrower from Ladysbridge, Co Cork, who was born without kneecaps and lower leg bone. Her parents made the difficult decision to amputate both her legs above the knee when she was 11 months, but this traumatic early life did not hold Orla back. She broke onto the international scene aged just 18 finishing fifth in the final of the F57 discus at Beijing in 2008.
She is now the European record holder in her class and will be hoping to win a medal in London. However despite her international pedigree, her inclusion in the Irish team is not a foregone conclusion and she faces the acid test trying to make the distance at the Irish Wheelchair Association National Championships in Santry.

Ciarán Ó Lionáird is often better known by his nicknames- 'Mad Len' and 'The Bullet with the Mullet'. From West Cork he showed a talent for running from an early age. Upon joining Lee Vale Athletics Club in Cork City he realised he could use his ability to gain a college athletics scholarship in the USA. Leaving Ireland at 18, much of his career went unnoticed back home as a series of injuries stinted his progress. But he burst on the scene last year achieving the Olympic qualifying time, reaching the World Championships 1,500m final and being signed to run full time for Nike. The episode joins Ciarán on one of his few, but much cherished, trips home to see his mother and brothers. The series then jets stateside to see how this boy who grew up on a dairy farm in Cork mixes it with the world's elite athletes in Nike's state of the art world headquarters in Portland, Oregon. We then return to reflect with Angela, his mother, on her mix of emotions about her eldest son - her pride in his achievements while missing him dearly.

Programme 5 of 6

This week London Calling follows Brian Gregan the 21-year-old 400m sprinter from Tallaght trying to make the breakthrough, we meet Camilla Speirs the bright young star of Irish Three Day Eventing who trains her own horses as well as Michael McKillop a middle distance runner with Cerebral Palsy who is not only Paralympic 800m Champion but also regularly competes with able bodied athletes.

Brian Gregan is a full time athlete and student. Balancing studies and training, Brian must forgo many of the 'perks' of being a student. Drinking and frozen pizzas are definitely not on the menu, as he sticks to a meticulously planned diet. Having been crowned National Champion at the 2011 National Indoor Championships, Brian heads to Paris for the European Indoors to make his mark on the international stage. But nothing goes to plan, and after finishing his only race a medical drama ensues. Will he be able to race again?

Camilla Speirs is one half of a mother and daughter team that are competing with the very best in the equestrian world of Three Day Eventing. While other riders have the support of big teams and money, this duo from Co Kildare have risen to the top with cheaply bought horses that they break in themselves. Camilla's current steed, Portersize Just A Jiff, is known around the circuit for being the smallest horse to compete at the top level of the sport.
The episode gives an insight into the many long and hard hours the Speirs' put into their training, whatever the weather.
In April 2011 Camilla returns to Badminton, the world's most prestigious event, where she had first announced herself on the global stage in 2010. But Badminton 2011 was to be memorable for all the wrong reasons. This rider and 'little horse that could', come a cropper over the feared cross country course and Camilla finds herself being airlifted to hospital.

Michael McKillop has cerebral palsy. Because of this condition he has greatly reduced strength and coordination down his entire right side, and as he says himself he can't run in a straight line. But despite this he has become a World Record Holder, World Champion and won gold in T37 800m at the Paralympic Games in Beijing. Trained by his father Michael, they both work hard to overcome his disability, and he regularly competes at the highest level of able bodied athletics. Like any other 22 year old Michael likes to spend time with his friends and going out, but he has to be careful not to burn the candles at both ends, not just because of his training but also because of his epilepsy. Michael has blossomed into an accomplished athlete and he underlined by this fact by becoming the first man to set a world record in the London 2012 Olympic stadium. Preparations on course he seems set to win double gold at the Paralympics in September.

Rob and Marian Heffernan from Douglas, Co Cork, are the full time parents, husband and wife team looking to qualify for the London Games. Rob qualified for London in Episode 1, but now Marian's campaign to join him starts in earnest. However tragedy strikes as the death of Rob's mother just before the 2011 World Championships means that they both have to return from Daegu, South Korea. However Rob convinces Marian to return and she lines up with the Irish Women's 4 X 400m as they break the national record. But the drama does not end there. As Marian continues her preparations she is injured in the National Indoors in Belfast- will all these setbacks derail her Olympic dream?

Programme 6 of 6

This week London Calling follows Brian Gregan the 21-year-old 400m sprinter from Tallaght trying to make the breakthrough, we meet Camilla Speirs the bright young star of Irish Three Day Eventing who trains her own horses as well as Michael McKillop a middle distance runner with Cerebral Palsy who is not only Paralympic 800m Champion but also regularly competes with able bodied athletes.

Bouncing back from his medical setback in Paris, Brian Gregan (400m Sprinter) wins silver at the U23 Championships. But before he can focus on getting to London he has to finish his degree. His thesis takes up so much time that he enters the season with very little training and low expectations. But as he journeys across Europe his stellar performances mean he is getting closer and closer to the qualifying time. With his parents following every move from home he enters the European Championships with a real shot at the time and a medal.

Having overcome her horrific fall at Badminton Camilla Speirs (Three Day Eventing) goes from strength to strength, but as 2012 dawns she still needs to perform in the big competitions to secure her place. She travels to Cork with Jiff and her mother to compete against the big money teams to see if she can make it. Good performances aside, it is down to the team managers who goes to London, and the cameras are there as she waits for the phone call that will confirm or deny her Olympic dream.

Having recovered from her injury in Belfast, Marian Heffernan and the 4 x 400m team re- double their efforts to secure qualification. To make sure of their place they travel to Poland, but not everything goes according to plan. This sets up their make or break event, the European Athletics Championships in Helsinki. But disaster strikes and they are disqualified. Will their work over the previous two years be enough to get them to the Olympics?

London Calling
  • RTÉ One, Tuesday,10.35pm