As we near the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics do you know who our Team Ireland Rio Olympics Superheroes are? Are you familiar with the members of the Irish Olympics team? To our shame, we had to admit we weren’t that au fait with the list of amazing people who have qualified and will be competing for Ireland this August. So to rectify that, we asked Electric Ireland, sponsor of Team Ireland for the Rio Olympics, to pick out 4 of the team members to tell you a bit more about them and what inspires them when they compete.
And as an extra bonus, each Olympian has shared their favourite music that they use to get in the zone pre-competition.
Kieran Behan, Artistic Gymnastics
Kieran was told twice as a child that he would never walk again.
At the age of 10, a benign tumour was found in his leg and complications from the surgical operation to remove the tumour left him in a wheelchair. Fifteen months later, defying the odds, he returned to his gymnastics training. Not long after his return, he fell off the high bar during a training session and suffered a head injury which resulted in a brain injury and damage to his inner ear affecting his balance and coordination skills. He was once again confined to a wheelchair, and had to relearn simple skills to sit up and move his head. The injuries left him unable to train for 3 years, and doctors told him they did not expect him to be able to walk again much less be able to do gymnastics.
He has defied the odds and went to compete at the highest level in gymnastics and represented Ireland at the 2012 London Olympic Games and is now bound for RIO 2016.
Although he was born in London, Kieran has an Irish connection through his parents. His father is from Dublin and his mother is from Monaghan making him eligible to compete for Team Ireland.
He is the second ever Irish gymnast to qualify for an Olympic Games and the first to qualify for 2 Olympic Games. In London, he was unable to qualify for the individual all-around, or any of the event finals, but feels he has learned a huge amount from the experience.
Kieran is one of Ireland’s genuine medal hopes with the experience of the London Olympics under his belt and coming off the back of a 4th place finish at the European Olympics at Baku in 2015 and a silver medal at the Rio Qualification Event in April 2016.
Behan believes that everyone has struggles in life, whether it is mentally or physically and hopes that people can relate to his story. It says no matter what happens, you can come out the right side.
#ThePowerWithin: “When I enter the arena, I’m a gladiator in the colosseum. I step onto the floor and raise my arm, it’s time to put on a show. My injured past leaves me, I am reborn. No one is saying I can’t, only me saying I can.”
19th April, 1989 (age 27)
2nd Olympic Games
7 x Northern European Gymnastics Championship medallist
Sinead Jennings Rowing: Lightweight double scull
Resilient is a word that defines lightweight rower Sinead Jennings. Determined from a young age to compete in an Olympic Games, Jennings started out on the Road to Rio many years ago and did not take the most expected route.
While lining up in Rio with partner, Claire Lambe will undoubtedly be a career highlight, Jennings has already had a taste of success and clearly possesses an ambition to achieve more. The Donegal native took bronze in the 2000 World Championships in the Lightweight Single and gold the following year despite being quite new to the sport.
When Sinead moved to Edinburgh she decided to join the local rowing club to try to get to know people. She was at the time fit and active as she was training to a competitive level in triathlon before she left Ireland and had played sport throughout her life. She was training for a few months at the club when she met with Hamish Burrell (who had coached Katherine Grainger a Scottish rower, 2012 Summer Olympics gold medallist, three-time Olympic silver medallist and six-time World Champion) who became her coach, and changed her whole attitude and approach to her sport.
They had a conversation where he asked her what she would like to achieve that year and she said:
‘Win Novice Race’ and he asked ‘Is that it?’ and she said ‘Well maybe Senior’ – ‘Is that it?’ coach said and so it continued
‘Win a national title’ – ‘Is that it?’
‘Qualify for a World Cup race’ – ‘Is that it?’
‘Qualify for the World Championships’ – ‘Is that it?’
‘Win the World Championships’ …finally silence from Hamish
9 months later she did.
Up to that point Sinéad said she was ‘inwardly hoping’ to achieve but she feels the pivotal moment of change came when Hamish pushed her to verbalise her ambition then her physical talent and self-belief combined to enable her to unlock her full potential and make her completely driven to achieve her goal. She started training twice a day, 4 days a week, and hasn’t stopped pushing her potential since; ‘I never knew what I could achieve until I stated my true ambition. It empowered me to push the boundaries of possibilities, unlocking my full potential’
With the lightweight single not being an Olympic event, Sinead looked to the double for her Olympic dream. Struggling to find a partner, she missed out on qualifying for the Olympics in both 2004 and 2008. Frustrated with the process in 2008, she decided to try her luck in cycling and began getting results as part of the women’s team for the 3km pursuit in track cycling. Failing to qualify for London in 2012, she decided to retire from the sport scene and focus on her family and career. Along with full time training Sinead is a mother of 3 and a doctor.
Pregnant with her daughter Hannah, Jennings was convinced by coach, Don McLachlan to give the double a try with a promising doubles prospective, 25-year-old Claire Lambe. Three days after giving birth, Sinead was back on the Road to Rio, and this time back in the boat. Sinead was delighted to come back to rowing and believes that enjoying the process would help her find success on the course.
The double qualified their place to Rio last September with a 3rd place B Final finish at the 2015 World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette.
#ThePowerWithin: “I never knew what I could achieve until I stated my true ambition. It empowered me to push the boundaries of possibilities, unlocking my full potential.”
30th September, 1976 (age 39)
1st Olympic Games
World Championship Gold medallist (Switzerland 2001)
World Championships Bronze medallist (Croatia 2000)
Fiona Doyle Swimming: 100m Breaststroke
At the age of 12 while watching the 2004 Athens Olympics, Fiona Doyle decided she was going to be an Olympic swimmer. Since that day, Fiona has worked uncompromisingly to achieve her goal.
Fiona came from a swimming family. Her grandfather founded her local swim club and herself and twin sister were both involved since the age of 5. Fiona was resolute in her goals and chased after them. However, she credits having her twin sister by her side to help her get through some of the harder times;
“I was so fortunate to have my twin sister, Eimear, right there beside me. She trained with me until the age of 16 when she had to stop due to a back injury. Waking up every morning was just that little bit easier when she was right there too. Eimear was just as passionate about swimming as I was. The Olympics were her dream too, even though she was a little less vocal about it. Eimear was equally as talented as I was, so having to make the decision to stop was heartbreaking for both of us. It was hard for Eimear to watch me continue swimming and progressing in my career, however, she was never bitter about it. Every time I stand on the blocks, I know my family is watching and cheering me on, but Eimear is on the blocks with me. I am not just doing this for me anymore, I am doing it for my family; I am doing it for Eimear.”
Narrowly missing out on Olympic qualifications in 2008 and 2012, Fiona resolved she wouldn’t be watching Rio from her couch. She decided she needed to make a change and accepted a scholarship to the University of Calgary for the opportunity to work with head coach Mike Blondell. A testament to her pursuit for excellence, swimming was her priority, but Fiona still made top marks and graduated with a degree in Kinesology.
In 2013, Fiona proved her progress was back on track and won a silver medal in the 100m breaststroke at the University Games. Returning to the University Games in 2015, Fiona made another trip to the podium winning both a silver in the 50m breaststroke and bronze in the 100m. To top of the meet, Fiona’s 100m swim was completed in 1:07.67 which saw her break the Olympic qualification time barrier and secure her place for Rio. Fiona was the very first Irish athlete to qualify for Rio 2016.
#ThePowerWithin: “Knowing that I can achieve any goals I set by trusting myself, and always giving 110% in everything I do.”
4th October, 1991 (age 24)
1st Olympic Games
6 x Irish Record Holder
World University Games Silver Medallist 100m. Breaststroke (2013 Kazan)
World University Games Silver Medallist 50m. Breaststroke (2015 Gwangiu)
World University Games Bronze Medallist 100m. Breaststroke (2015 Gwangiu)
Paddy Barnes Boxing: Light-flyweight
Belfast born Paddy Barnes is an Irish Olympic Games legend and the undisputed champion of the light-flyweight division in Irish amateur boxing, winning consecutive bronze medals in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. Paddy secured his place for his third Olympic Games in April 2015 when he won gold at the World Series of Boxing in Maiquetia, Venezuela.
Paddy is now a household name both internationally and throughout Ireland, and is a role model to young people and his peers. Paddy was inspired as a young athlete by stories about AP McCoy, and became involved in boxing at an early age as his cousins boxed in a club run by his uncle in Co. Down, and he wanted to fit in and train with them too. Through support from his family and his coach Gerry Storey, Paddy has developed into the boxer he is today and is very grateful for their advice and input. The best advice he was ever given was from his father and coach to never cut any corners in training, which Paddy believes is vital.
Understanding that being a champion can be a painful process, Paddy continued to fight for his Olympic spot despite damaged knuckles and ligaments in his hand. Paddy reinjured his hand in the first fight of the World Series of Boxing after an initial injury earlier in 2015, but fought on regardless. Paddy knew early qualification was at stake and mentally pushed his limits to reduce the pain and allow him to continue training. Paddy was rewarded for his grit and perseverance by winning all his fights and qualifying for Rio.”
#ThePowerWithin: “Stepping into the ring, I have already won. I’ve visualised it – I believe it.”
9th April, 1987 (age 29)
Belfast, United Kingdom
3rd Olympic Games (2008 Bronze medallist, 2012 Bronze medallist) Light flyweight division
European Championship gold medallist (Moscow 2010)
European Championship silver medallist (Minsk 2013)
2 x Commonwealth Games Gold medallist (Delhi 2010 & Glasgow 2014)
Over to you now. What do you think of these amazing Olympians? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.