New ball game as Olympic chief eyes other sports’ starlets

IRISH Olympic bosses are considering a radical new plan to work with sports like the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI in an effort to develop new talent.

Olympic Council of Ireland chief executive Dr Stephen Martin revealed his organisation are keen to find and nurture athletes from grassroots sports in their quest to develop more Olympians.

Ireland will be represented by 49 competitors in 12 sports — athletics, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming and triathlon — in Beijing next month.

But Martin believes that figure can grow if a new strategy for finding talent on local playing fields is put in place before the London 2012 Games

He explained: “The main talent pool in Ireland is taken up by soccer, rugby and gaelic sports.

“The challenge moving forward is to look at how some of the competitors in those sports may try other options in Olympic sports.

“One of the catalysts we have been working on ahead of London 2012 is to see if some of the sports can set up discreet programmes with funding probably from the Institute of Sports to see if there are some people who can cross over from their codes and try other sports.

“This would not necessarily be for London in 2012 but for future games.”

It may sound fanciful but Martin points to his own background as proof that the concept works. Martin is a double Olympic hockey medallist, and former captain of both Great Britain and the Irish hockey teams. Yet he was a latecomer to the sport

“I was 14 years of age when I started playing hockey. I played soccer, rugby and golf (he was a single handicapper golfer) and then I picked up hockey by accident.

“By 18 I was playing senior international hockey and at 22 I was an Olympic hockey player.”

He continued: “In other sports at the moment there can be transfers. Take bobsleigh as an example. There you have a few retired sprinters who have a few injuries and breakdown and they take up bobsleigh and are the grunt behind the push of the bob.”

But the Olympic Council aren’t targeting high-profile intercounty footballers and hurlers or their League of Ireland equivalent.

“What you want is young athletes who maybe aren’t quite going to make it in their chosen sport but are still fresh and young and maybe have four or five years to compete at a top level.

“There is a girl called Rebecca Romero who was a Great Britain rower, and a world championship medallist. She decided to try out track cycling and now she is a world champion at that.

“It is not going to happen for everyone but I am sure that there are a lot of second-rate gaelic, soccer or rugby players out there who if they tried another sport could be a world class athlete.

“We need to work with the sports to have some of these discreet programmes in place.

“Even if you get seven or eight athletes in a year who are world class, that is a positive.”


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