Kerry to aim for another shot at Olympic success

Kerry to aim for another shot at Olympic success

20 January 2021

NEWCASTLE athlete Kerry O’Flaherty would dearly love to compete at another Olympic Games.

She has enjoyed a great career and while admitting that running “takes a lot out of the body,” she is casting an eye towards Tokyo which is getting ready to host the delayed Games this summer.

However, if the 39 year-old doesn’t make it to the Far East, she knows that she can still call herself an Olympian.

Like many athletes across the globe, Kerry’s schedule has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic which saw the 2020 Olympics postponed until this summer. And the delay may have helped her.

At the start of last year’s lockdown, she was just coming back from her second foot surgery after sustaining an unfortunate injury in 2019 while working to qualify for the World Championships. 

During the European Permit Meeting in Spain, Kerry was accidentally pushed from behind as she attempted to jump a barrier. When she landed, she broke her fifth metatarsal, ending her hopes of qualifying for the World Championships. 

“With the Olympics having been postponed it allowed me to concentrate fully on the rehab and it was a reassurance to know that I had the extra time to get fitter and stronger,” she revealed.

“To support the fracture repair, a screw was ed in my foot a week after the break in September. Then in February last year, with the healing done, the surgeon removed it.

“Now that I have got my fitness back, there have been no races and it has been frustrating. We have not had the usual seasonal race build-up before going into the Olympics and it has been especially tough for me without the cross-country.”

Kerry was able to put a good training block together and is currently working on endurance and base work, running over 70 miles a week. But things have been that bit more difficult to plan due to Covid-19.

“I was supposed to be going to Portugal at the end of the month for a training block with Athletics NI but that has now been postponed until February,” she revealed. “Even then it may not happen. It is difficult, but I just take it in my stride. Everything is up in the air, but training has been going great.”

Kerry admits that it is strange, particularly on days when training is longer, not to have the solidarity and company of team-mates, admitting that it’s difficult to put the longer runs in on your own.

“I have just got the head down though and totally understand that it has to be this way. It’s good that we can now run with one other person outside. Having a training partner on tough sessions and longer runs really helps get the work in and being able to have a chat whilst churning out the miles is great for mental wellbeing too. 

“The optimal Olympic qualifying plan would have been to head off in February to Australia for their track and field season and in normal circumstances I would have been able to go there to run a couple of races and put some points together for qualification. That’s obviously impossible now, so the plan has to be different.”

Kerry admits that after sustaining her foot injury, it would have been great to head off Down Under for their track-and-field season and hopes to get away for some more key training periods over the coming months.

“Hopefully I’ll get to Albuquerque in March then, fingers crossed, there’ll be races in April, followed by more altitude work in the French Pyrenees. The Euro track and field events do not usually take place until the end of May, with the deadline for Olympic qualification June 27.

“If these events go ahead, they will be key to securing qualifying times, especially as none of us know for sure how things will pan out. A lot of it will be down to luck.”

However, Kerry is looking on the positive side if things do not go to plan.

“Thousands of athletes are in the same boat as me. We have to wait it out. I have ticked the box and feel lucky in that sense. I am an Olympian already. It is something I am very proud of.

“Organisers are adamant that the Games will go ahead, but they won’t be the same. Athletes will just be arriving a handful of days before their race and go straight back.

“In Rio we were close to the Olympic village and it makes it all so much more of the ‘Olympic experience’. It is nearly every athlete’s ultimate dream to make the Olympics, you’ve made it on your talent. If it doesn’t happen this year, it’ll be a huge disappointment, but I will focus on the positives and what I have already achieved.”

Kerry has had a long, distinguished career and is keen to add one or two more victorious chapters. However as well as that, she is looking to what is ahead after sport.

“I am 40 this year and have been running for 26 years. There is only so much the body can take; it has been a big sacrifice over the years, but I have enjoyed every minute. The fact is I can always say that I am an Olympian. I have always been keen on inspiring the next generation, but I could write a book on injuries though.

“I can use my experience to help other young athletes as I have had all the niggles and injuries. It is great when young athletes turn to me and I love to be able to offer help and advice, having learned from my coach Richard. It is a really great feeling to be able to inspire people.”

Kerry admits that when she was a teenager running in Newcastle, she could not have foreseen then where the journey would take her.

“When I look back over the years, from starting running at the age of 13, the sport has given me so much. When I see how many people are now out running it makes me smile. It’s just amazing, particularly in more recent months since lockdown took hold. It is really great.

“Once you get the running bug, you have it. I think I will always run. It has great health and wellbeing benefits and I see so many people running around Castlewellan Lake and in Newcastle. It is great to see the running boom, especially when we live in such a beautiful part of the country with access to amazing running spots.”

Kerry said she has to be very careful about how she treats her running at the moment as no elite athlete is completely sure when they have to peak.

“At this stage, I am not looking to tap into my top-end speed. If you are doing that now, you’ll just empty the tank of all the endurance you have built up. I have been doing a lot of tempo running, hard but not flat-out, churning the miles out and keeping myself going, hoping that races will come back. I am also keeping on top of any niggles and in a couple of weeks I could be ready to go,” said the athlete.

Kerry is also acutely aware that her return to competitive running could happen at the very same Spanish meeting where she sustained her foot injury. Too many, that could be viewed as some sort of omen, but Kerry has no issue with it.

“In my head at the moment, the prospect of running there is absolutely fine. I was accidentally pushed, it was a freak accident. If it was something other than that, perhaps it would be a bit more nerve-wracking, but I am not thinking like that,” she said.

“If any doubts do kick in, I know that my sports psychologist Gary Longwell at the Sports Institute would be on hand to provide me with some good advice as always.”

The Newcastle athlete uses her social media profiles to promote positive messages about running, including the importance of rest and recovery, as well as training smart and fuelling well for sport.  It is something she feels very strongly about and is doing a lot to help promote a positive mindset about it.

“I try to use my Instagram page @runkerryrun as a platform to promote running in an inspiring but also healthy way. I will often share training sessions, recovery tips and also lots of food photos as I do need to fuel very well running 70 miles a week,” she explained.

“I think it’s very important for people, especially young athletes, to see that I do eat a lot of carbs to fuel my running and I do love chocolate; everything in moderation, that is the key.’’

Three weeks into the New Year, Kerry says that whatever 2021 throws up, the important thing for everyone is to embrace it and enjoy it.

She added: “Last year demonstrated that we all can be very resilient. It’s an exciting time to be alive and living in this beautiful corner of Co Down with the beaches, forests and mountains. There is no better place.”