Walsh and Meehan pedal to silver
PARALYMPIC GAMES:ALL WEEK here, the velodrome has been the most incorrigible tease. An Irish team with zero history of cycling success at the Paralympics has found every advance turned down, every move brushed off. Yesterday though it finally relented, bestowing a silver medal upon Catherine Walsh and her sighted pilot Fran Meehan in the 3km Individual Pursuit. It took the Irish medal tally at these games up to seven – you can take “and counting” part as read.
“For us to come out like that and compete with everyone in front of these massive crowds at the Paralympics was very nerve-racking,” said Walsh. “I know we had a race earlier two days ago, which was fantastic and helped us bed in, but we were very nervous. Well, I was anyway.
“It’s hard to get your best out there but I am delighted for the whole team. We had a couple of fourths earlier in the week and a couple of very close calls. This shows that we are able to race here and we are able to finish off what we said we could do and get some medals.”
They were well beaten in the final by the New Zealand pairing of Phillipa Gray and Laura Thompson but were far from disgraced in the vanquishing. When Tiger Woods won the US Open by 15 shots, the joint runner-up Ernie Els laughed that he’d had a decent week all round. “I did pretty well in the tournament I was playing in but Tiger was playing in one all by himself.” That was kind of the way of it here, with Gray and Thompson an ocean clear of everybody else. They broke the world record by five seconds in qualifying and came close again in the final, where Walsh and Meehan just couldn’t live with their power.
“We went out, fought hard and did the best we could,” said Meehan. “We got second and did everything we said we would do when we came here. We can’t be disappointed, we left everything out on the track but the New Zealand girls were phenomenal so that is a damned good second. Like, we equalled the old world record in our ride-off earlier this afternoon so you can’t do any better than that.”
For Walsh, it was a second Paralympic medal and it comes 12 years after her first. She has competed at every games since 1992 and took an athletics bronze in the pentathlon in Sydney. This silver rewarded the Irish team after a long week in which first James Brown and Damien Shaw and later Colin Lynch all lost out on bronze medals having led through their races. They can turn their faces to the sun now ahead of the road races at Brands Hatch.
“It’s fantastic,” said Walsh. “I genuinely thought looking at the schedule that it would be Colin [who would win the first medal] and I am sorry that the lads have had to wait. It was a stressful few days for Brian [Nugent] the coach and Denis Toomey our manager. Gerry Beggs the mechanic too. They are the ones who have driven this programme forward and they are always fighting our corner for funding and with Cycling Ireland and the Sports Council. They are dogged and they push us on and I am just glad that we are able to deliver for those guys who have worked immensely hard for us and made us believe in ourselves as well.”