Mia Griffin’s unique Olympic journey: From a Kilkenny camogie field to the Paris Velodrome

The 25-year-old is part of the women’s pursuit track cycling team who qualified for Paris

Ireland's Mia Griffin at the 2022 European Championships in Munich, Germany. 'If an athlete goes to the Olympics it’s a pretty big deal.' Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

Every Olympic journey begins in its own individual way, and for Mia Griffin it’s in another sport and a very different place to the Paris Velodrome in July.

Back in 2017 Cycling Ireland first advertised its talent transfer programme under the simply fetching caption: Could you be the next female cycling star?

Being a Kilkenny native, Griffin’s only true sporting pursuit at that time was camogie, playing for both the county and her club Glenmore. She always had her Olympic heroes but the thought of maybe one day competing never came to mind.

It was her mother Maria, who works in Waterford IT (now South-East Technological University), who was alerted to the Cycling Ireland notice on the campus, arriving home one evening with the proposition. “Sure why not?” Griffin thought.

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Now after a seven-year pursuit, so to speak, the destination was realised last month, with Griffin part of the Ireland women’s track cycling team that sealed their Olympic qualification, ranked sixth best of the 10 nations invited to Paris – and the only one of those 10 nations still without a home velodrome.

Ireland's Lara Gillespie, Mia Griffin, Kelly Murphy and Alice Sharpe during the 2024 Track Nations Cup at the Adelaide Superdrome on February 2024 in Australia. Photograph: Sarah Reed/Getty Images

No Irish men’s or women’s pursuit team had qualified for the Olympics before, only in individual track disciplines, although Cycling Ireland has been on this journey for a lot longer, setting up a track cycling camp in Mallorca almost 20 years ago to further its purpose of reaching the Olympic stage.

For Griffin, now 25 and who also rides with the UK-based pro team DAS-Hutchinson-Brother, once she got the taste for cycling there was no looking back (her father PJ is also a keen cyclist, and the Tour de France is always on in the Griffin house).

“I’d good numbers in the testing,” she recalls, which involved a six-second sprint test and a three-minute endurance test on a stationary bike, “and from there just committed to cycling; they created the pathway for me”.

“Obviously from playing camogie when I was young an All-Ireland in Croke Park would have been on my priority list, so I never really thought about the Olympics. But always would have thought that going to the Olympics is pretty spectacular. If an athlete goes to the Olympics it’s a pretty big deal.

“Being a Kilkenny native that obviously means that from a young age hurling and camogie is the biggest sport – it’s like a religion in Kilkenny – so I played camogie since I was five years old and that was my sport.

Mia Griffin in the track cycling women's madison final in the 2022 European Championships in Munich. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

“I played for my county, minor, I was playing intermediate camogie for the county when I stopped. I was 18 when I started cycling, it took over, and I was really, really passionate about it, so that was when I had to say goodbye to camogie and fully commit to cycling.

“But I think people’s background and situations also come into play when it comes to talent transfer, because I was quite lucky to have the support of my parents, and I was not financially in a place where I had to depend on myself, I could depend on them.”

After missing out on Tokyo that Olympic pursuit was realised after winning a silver medal behind New Zealand in the Hong Kong Nations Cup race in March. Griffin, along with Alice Sharpe, Kelly Murphy and Lara Gillespie, rode the final, Erin Creighton also part of the team as first reserve (these five almost certain to be selected for Paris).

In qualifying for a team pursuit Ireland are also eligible to compete in the women’s madison and omnium, and last October Griffin also qualified a spot in the women’s road race, recording the best result ever by an Irish rider in a women’s World Tour race with a third-place finish at the Tour of Guangxi in China. That also came after she endured a five-month interruption after suffering a concussion in a crash at Paris-Roubaix in April.

Italy's Chiara Consonni (second), Poland's Daria Pikulik (winner) and Mia Griffin (third) on the podium after a stage of the Tour of Guangxi women's elite world challenge on October 17th, 2023, in Guilin, China. Photograph: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

She will focus only on the track in Paris. “I think it’s the fact I’ve put so many years into this track set-up, and I think we work really well as a team together, we know each other really, really well. So for me, it’s a no-brainer to commit to track racing for the Olympics.

“There are so many variables on the road. On the track I suppose it’s something where there are less people in general – if you put everything together and prepare very well for track you kind of get out what you put in whereas on the road it’s slightly different. I think track is a good place to invest in general; your chances of, say, winning a medal are going to be higher.

“And I think just in general there has been a big step up on the women’s side of cycling in Ireland, and I think the fact we are able to qualify that amount of females in this discipline is quite significant. You can already see the standard has risen. There are more girls on World Tour teams, there are more girls being paid to cycle in Ireland, and I think that in general is significant because track creates a good pathway to the road as well.”

Soon further Olympic pursuits will turn to the long-awaited velodrome finally set for construction at the Sport Ireland Campus in Abbotstown. “I do think for pathways and developing future riders we need a track,” says Griffin. “It would change a lot of things for sure.”

Let that journey begin.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics