The eyes of all Leitrim people will be firmly fixed on The Mall in London next Saturday when Ballinamore’s Colin Griffin and Eslin’s Laura Reynolds make their bid for Olympic glory as they take to the streets of London.
Colin is first in action on Saturday morning at 9 am in the gruelling 50Km walk while Laura follows her coach later in the day at 5 pm in the 20Km walk and as both prepared for the biggest day in their sporting lives, they took time from their preparations to chat with the Observer.
Both report that their final preparations are going well as Colin said “Everything has gone well so far and I’m looking forward to the race now. All the important work is done at this stage and it’s just a case of recovering as much as possible and being relaxed.”
“My final preparation is going well,” said Laura, “I’m currently in a training camp in Teddington in London organised by the OCI. They have organised a excellent camp here, ideal location for training and we have all the support staff here, physios, doctors. My training is going to plan and I’m looking forward to racing on Saturday. People can follow me on twitter, laurareynolds89 for updates.”
Both are adjusting to life in the team camp and Olympic village as Colin reported “The team spirit has been very positive here. The OCI and Athletics Ireland did a great job of setting up this camp so that we are away from the Olympic hype as much as possible. The facilities here are excellent as well as the support staff and it’s easy to just relax and train.
“To be honest, the time is flying and I certainly don’t get bored. When we are not training or sleeping, we enjoy a bit of chat and banter around meal times or having a coffee. There is a good group of us here and we get on quite well and keep things relaxed and entertained!”
Laura too is happy with life in London - “I won’t be going into the village until the Thursday before my race. It’s easier to stay focused here as we are away from all the hype that comes with the Olympics. The spirit is high in the camp especially after Rob Heffernan’s performance in the 20k walk and John Joe Nevin’s in the boxing.
“I don’t taper my training until a week-week and a half before my race so I’m still training hard and training twice a day and gym sessions as well so there’s not too much time to be bored. There’s plenty of sport to be watched on TV anyway and we’re all glued to the TV following the Irish! I haven’t been to any events yet but after my race I hope to see a few on the final day.”
Colin is in the unique position of being an athlete and coach and he says that Laura is under no pressure next Saturday - “Laura is young and this will all be a learning experience for her. She has the potential to be a top eight performer at the 2016 Olympics and she’s had a tough journey getting here also.
“Any mistakes I made in my career or things I could have done better have been passed on to Laura so she’s in a very good position. Her training has gone reasonably well despite a small injury problem a month ago and I feel she is capable of a performance close to her personal best. But there is no pressure on her.”
Colin’s own expectations for the event may be different from Laura who is in her first Olympics but his experience, earned in heart-breaking fashion, means the Ballinamore man is taking nothing for granted - “I’ve been building for this moment for many years and having just turned 30, I am at the pinnacle of my career. I am capable of a personal best time in reasonable conditions and that should put me close to top 12 territory.
“But I’ve experienced enough to know that anything can happen and nothing can be taken for granted. I’m looking forward to feeding off the local support on the course and have no regrets. I’ve had a very tough journey getting here so I certainly appreciate the opportunity I have and want to capitalise on it fully.”
Laura’s own expectations centre more on gaining experience as she starts out her Olympic career - “At this stage, I’m at the beginning of my career. I’m only 23 and this Olympics is going to be about gaining valuable experience for future major championships and Olympics. It has been a tough year with numerous injuries and illness and as a result I qualified for the Olympics much later in the year than I had originally planned. I hope to get a PB anyway and then see how the race pans out.”
Laura also received a pre-Olympic boost with two new sponsors coming on board - “I have new sponsors O’Reilly and Sons Volkswagen dealership in Longford and ROS Nutrition who are supporting me also. O’Reilly and Sons are providing me with the use of a car when I come back from London.“
Finally, Colin & Laura are delighted with the outpouring of support from Leitrim people everywhere and Laura admits that the proximity to London is a major factor in the huge interest this time around - “There is a huge interest in the Olympics this time around. This is the nearest they are going to be to Ireland. It’s a great opportunity for people to come over and see the Olympics.
“Also because there are two Leitrim athletes, myself and Colin this time around which means there is an increased interest in Leitrim. The support of the public has been brilliant. I’ve had so many messages of support since I qualified back in June. The Eslin community, Mohill AC, Murtagh’s bar and Carrick AC all held fundraisers and so many people have supported me and thanks to everyone.
“All my family and friends are coming over for the race as well. There will be a lot of Irish support on the race course on Saturday.”
Colin said “There probably a little more this time given the close proximity of the Olympics and how easily accessible London is to people back home, and not to mention the huge Leitrim community who are living in London. The support has been huge and I can’t thank the Leitrim people enough for their support and goodwill. Having two Leitrim athletes competing is extra special.”