O'Rourke injury casts major doubt over Olympic participation
ATHLETICS:FOR AN Olympic send-off the anticipated fanfare around the National Championships in Santry yesterday either failed to hit the high notes or else went badly off-tune – most worryingly so for Derval O’Rourke.
Instead of winning a 10th national title in the sprint hurdles O’Rourke never made it out of the warm-up area, her sudden withdrawal due to a back injury now casting a major doubt over her participation in London later this month.
But while O’Rourke still has time to get herself right, it seems the morale of the women’s 4x400 metre relay team has been irreparably damaged: Catriona Cuddihy, who was originally selected on the six-woman team for London only to be replaced by Joanna Mills, who appealed to Athletics Ireland, is now counter-appealing to the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) – and no matter what happens next there’ll be no happy outcome for anyone involved.
For O’Rourke these championships were planned as one of the final, crucial test runs before London, and for things to go crashing so close to the Olympics can’t possibly auger well. She was actually a little too distraught to assess the situation herself, leaving her coach, Sean Cahill, to put words on the indescribable.
“Derval actually raced twice, in Loughborough, on Saturday, and things went fine, no problems,” said Cahill, somewhat puzzled by the nature of her injury, but visibly concerned about the potential consequences.
“Okay she’d two brutal starts, but ran 13:27, and 13:20, and flew back late last night, everything fine, no sign of any injuries whatsoever. She came out here, really looking forward to racing, and after 42 minutes of her 45-minute warm-up, she was just about to go over one last hurdle, flat out, and suddenly her back went into spasm.”
O’Rourke was immediately assessed by Athletics Ireland physio, Paul O’Neill, who wasn’t able to pinpoint any exact diagnosis, and which only added to Cahill’s concerns, with the Olympics now less than three weeks away.
“Our best hope now is that it is something neural,” added Cahill, “such as a trapped nerve. If there’s a muscle pull or tear in there then obviously that’s not good at all.
“But right now we just don’t know. So it is fingers crossed, really. She’ll be back with the physio first thing in the morning, and we’ll see what the assessment is then. All she was told for now is go home and have an ice bath, and take some anti- inflammatory.
“She was due to race in France on Tuesday, and obviously that’s not going to happen now. And she had a couple more races lined up after that as well. But right now I don’t know what else to say except that it’s not the way you’d like to be going into any championships, and definitely not the Olympics.”
At 31 O’Rourke has taken every precaution to ensure preparations for London remain a healthy balancing act between pushing harder than ever and staying injury free: to miss any period of training at this stage, whatever about missing the last few races, could prove fatal to her chances of impacting on London as planned, and with that might yield the question of whether to even go there.
Injury has always been one of the cruel components of sport, and yet Joanne Cuddihy – herself so often the victim of cruelly unfair injuries in the past – used the word in a difference sense yesterday, although perhaps perfectly suitably so, when describing the outcome of the relay selection controversy which saw her younger sister Catriona replaced by Joanna Mills.
“It’s not nice, it’s heart-wrenching, and it’s been a very, very difficult weekend for everybody involved, and for every one of us on the team,” said Cuddihy, who will captain the relay team in London.
“So many things, I think, should have, could have, been done differently. Because the way it’s turned out has just been cruel.” Exactly how Athletics Ireland created such a cruel scenario in the first place is still not entirely clear, given Mills, the 19-year-old from Ballymena, could always claim that her 400-metre best of 53.89 was significantly better than Catriona Cuddihy, whose fastest time over the distance is 54.59. Exactly how Cuddihy will appeal that to the OCI remains to be seen.