O’Keeffe comes full circle

EILEEN O’KEEFFE made Irish athletics history when finishing sixth in the final of the hammer throw at the World Championships in Osaka two years ago.

Before that only Dr Pat O’Callaghan, who won back-to-back Olympic hammer titles in 1928 and 1932, and John Lawlor, who finished fourth in Rome in 1960, had made such a final at a major championships.

The fact that she was the first woman – and basically self-coached – made it an even more exceptional achievement.

This time last year she was on the road to Beijing and things were going according to plan – another Irish title and some solid performances at international level.

Three weeks before she was schedule to board the flight for the Far East tragedy struck in the form of a knee injury. While she went to the Olympics her dream was in tatters and her gallant effort to make the final fell narrowly short.

“I actually picked it up three weeks before I left for the Olympic Games,” she recalled at Santry yesterday when plans for this weekend’s Woodies DIY National Championships were announced.

“It was something that just happened. The cartilage just went – it wasn’t something I was aware of so it was something that was just sudden and unexpected.”

She went to the pre-Olympic training camp determined to make it to the Olympic circle where she attempted to beat the pain barrier.

On her return to Ireland she immediately had the injury checked by Ray Moran, a renowned consultant orthopaedic doctor at Beaumont where she works in theatre, and then went under surgery at the Santry Sports Injury Clinic to repair the damage.

“Two thirds of the cartilage area of the knee was gone completely,” she said. “I had microfracture surgery – basically just drilling at the back of the bone of the kneecap – to put in this super clot that is supposed to form a tissue that will fill the defect where the cartilage is gone.

“Obviously it will not have the strength of normal cartilage but at the same time it acts as a sort of shock absorber and prevents a build up of swelling in the knee.”

After missing all the important winter training – she spent three months on crutches – she has been working on building herself back up to where she was before.

“I can’t say I’ll be 100 per cent for the World Championships in Berlin next month but things are going well,” she said.

“Considering everything, for me to be throwing 68 metres without my usual winter training is encouraging. I genuinely did not think I would be throwing at all this season.

“Obviously my strength is not what it should be so I am relying on my technique for distance. I just hope I have not lost speed in turns as that is my main asset.”

And that brought her to tomorrow’s competition at Morton Stadium where she has a broken the Irish record seven of the 12 times she has visited the circle at the last national championships.

She is driven on by the dream that was Osaka and the desire to repeat that in future competitions.

“I know I won’t be 100 per cent for Berlin but I feel I am getting there,” she said. “And I know if I can throw 69-70 metres it will get me into the final. You just need one good throw.

“World standards have not advanced all that much since Osaka – they are all about the same – and the people who were that much ahead are all under suspension. We have not seen the Olympic champion, Oksana Menkova, since Beijing.

“I like the circle in Santry. The surface is smooth so I can get my optimum speed when I throw and that is my asset. If I can get 70 metres there at the weekend it will give my confidence a huge boost.”

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