PAUL HESSION was devastated when he failed to make the final of the men’s 200m at the World Championships in Berlin last year, but the 27-year-old Athenry sprinter has converted that disappointment into an insatiable hunger which he has directed at this year’s European Championships in Barcelona.
Last weekend he opened his season with a smart 6.78 sec 60m dash at the IAAF indoor meet in Karlsruhe, Germany, while this weekend he will be retracing some old steps to glory when he competes over both 60m and 200m at the Woodies DIY Irish indoor championships at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast.
“I was hoping to get two rounds in Germany but I only got one,” he said. “Still it was good to get out there. When you are away from racing for about six months it’s always good to bet back because it is a whole different ball game. It’s nice to race and break up the winter training.”
He always runs well in Belfast. While 60m was never his distance, he set an Irish record there in 2007 and broke it several times again en route to making the final at the European indoor championships in Birmingham.
“Those championships are important to me,” he said. “They give me a bit of a buzz – a bit of a feel for competing again.”
Although he subsequently failed narrowly to make the final Hession won a spectacular quarter-final sprint at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and, after an ultra consistent campaign, he went to last year’s world championships in Berlin with high hopes of getting into the mix.
“I was very disappointed in Berlin,” he admitted. “Maybe I was very hard on myself but that’s just me, I guess. I came back after Berlin and really refocused. I got a bit of freshness back in my mind and in my training. I got a lot of hunger back. I am not saying I wasn’t hungry last year but I am probably even more hungry now and I feel I have something to prove.”
He will have the ideal opportunity to prove that point at the European Championships in Barcelona next July where he will go to the line among the medal favourites and that gives him a lot of confidence.
“There is a medal in me,” he insisted. “Even last year, despite a couple of new Europeans coming on the scene, I was still fourth best and I am the most consistent European out there over the last three or four years.
” I know that doesn’t win you medals. You have to go out there and run a special race on the day. But I have the pedigree and we’ll see.
“I feel good now and I am training well and I feel strong and fit. I will run at the weekend and I may do one or two more meets at the very most but I won’t be going to the World Indoor Championships. I may not even run after the weekend. I will have to talk to my coach. Every week or two you put into the indoors is a week missed getting ready for outdoors and for me the priority is the Europeans in July.
“I am confident I can get underneath 20.3 seconds. I still see the Paul Hession who ran 20.30 and see the faults he had and the improvements that had to be made and that is still relevant.
“We have done a few different things this year. We have tried a few things out. You are constantly learning and you need to try things out on a trial and error basis otherwise you are not going to improve.
“Looking towards the summer we have talked about the rounds again. If there is not much between the guys going into a final it’s the guy who has been able to handle the rounds best who is going to win the gold medal.
“The quarter-final in Beijing was the perfect race and I still had a little bit in hand. It was a good moment. It would have been even better if I had made the final.
“But when I go to a big meet now I feel like I am at home. I feel like I belong at the highest level. I guess it’s because I have been racing with those guys since 2004 and particularly since 2007 – every single race I run is a Grand Prix or the equivalent. But you can’t be satisfied with just qualifying for those competitions – you want to win them.”
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