Dejected Gillick resigned to missing Olympics


ATHLETICS NEWS:LOST BETWEEN the giddy smiles and warm handshakes that will surround this morning’s announcement of the Irish Olympic team will be those faces and names for which London has simply come too soon, or else too late.

Some have already reconciled with their fate: the men’s and women’s hockey team, boxer Joe Ward, open water swimmer Chris Bryan – and now David Gillick has resigned to his, accepted that his hopes of qualifying in the 400 metres are over.

This Sunday marks the final deadline for track and field qualification – with the opening ceremony now a mere 23 days away. Gillick has had July 8th in his head since January 1st, knowing that unless he’d run 45.30 seconds, or quicker, London would never be a reality: now reality has bitten.

So he’ll wake up next Monday, his 29th birthday, and begin the first day of the rest of his life: he’s certainly not young anymore by world-class sprint standards, although not necessarily past his peak. And even if there have been countless moments over the past few months when, unable to run with a calf muscle injury, he questioned everything about the sport, he’s determined to press on.

“No, these Olympics aren’t going to happen for me,” he says. “That’s been the dream, for the last four years, and . . . I’ve just missed too much time, what I needed to do in order to run the standard, just too big of a mountain to climb. Maybe in my head I’ve know it for a few weeks. But . . . two years ago I was running 44 seconds. Three years ago I made the World Championship final. That’s what I have to remind myself.

“I have a talent, and I want to exploit it as best as I can . . . A lot of people have worked on my behalf to get me back, and I’ve had great sponsors over the years too. So I feel I owe it to them, and myself, to keep going . . . But first and foremost I have to get myself 100 per cent right. The 400m is a really, really hard event. And the training is even harder. It’s an unforgiving sport . . . I’ve soldiered on the last few months, but I do need a break.”

It’s the sort of setback he’s faced before, albeit as a younger man. After winning successive European indoor titles in 2005 and 2007, Gillick failed to progress beyond the heats of the Beijing Olympics, laid low it seemed by pressure and illness. Yet he came back a stronger, faster man – twice breaking 45 seconds in 2009 (44.77 and 44.88), and finishing sixth in the World Championships in Berlin.

In 2010 he ran as quick again, 44.79, but let slip his ultimate goal of medalling at the European Championships in Barcelona, finishing fifth. After that things went rapidly downhill. His decision to abandon his training base in Loughborough for south Florida cracked, it seemed, his entire foundations and perhaps partly contributing to the calf muscle tear that he first sustained last summer.

Then, based back at Loughborough, came the moment his quest to qualify for London first fell apart: “I’d wintered well, everything was progressing, all the way up to the first week in March. Then I tore my soleus, right in the middle of my calf. Same injury as last year, same leg, same muscle. I wish I had an answer as to why that happened, but it was gut-wrenching. I’d worked so hard to get back from last year.

“Sometimes when an injury like that happens it’s a catalyst for something else to go wrong. Credit to the Irish Institute of Sport, and Athletics Ireland, they did all they could to support me. I was trying to stay positive, doing all the rehab and gym work and then I tore the gastroc muscle, at the back of the calf.

“That added on a couple of weeks, and before I knew it, I hadn’t run since March. This was the end of May. I was back in the pool, with the aqua-vest on, trying to knock the shit out of myself, basically. I was doing sessions on the bike too, trying to keep my fitness up. But when you can’t run . . . it’s just not the same.

“But because it was Olympic year I had to know, personally, where I was. You’re doing all this rehab, but you don’t know where you are. We’re . . . runners. I’m not a cyclist, I’m not a swimmer. If aqua-jogging was an Olympic sport, I’d be on . . . the podium.

“I decided to try one session, 2x300m, my first since March, then decided I just had to race. So I went to Turin, ran 48.36 . . . Then I went to Moscow and ran 48.27, and it hit me like wet fish in the face. The leg flared up again . . . it has become emotionally draining.

“Being injured like that, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. And . . . not being able to train, it almost felt like I was suddenly unemployed. It plays on your mind in similar ways.”

He was ready to quit the season, yet the chance to run the 4x400m relay at the European Championships in Helsinki last weekend offered one last hope to salvage something – although they finished last in their heat, the insult to that injury was disqualification for two lane infringements.

“I know as well if I am to continue in this sport I need to be healthy. The time comes when you have to listen to your body.”

  • With qualification confirmed yesterday of the Irish women’s 4x400 team for London, Athletics Ireland have nominated the following six athletes for inclusion: Joanne Cuddihy (KCH); Michelle Carey (Dublin Striders); Claire Bergin (DSD); Marian Heffernan (Togher); Jessie Barr (Ferrybank AC) and Catriona Cuddihy (KCH).
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