Merry at Mardyke to begin long road back to big time

KATHARINE MERRY will take a major step forward in her rehabilitation programme when she lines up for her first individual 400m in two years at the BUPA Ireland Cork City Sports this afternoon.

The 28-year-old Birchfield Harrier was at the peak of her career when stricken with an injury that eventually necessitated career-threatening surgery.

Bronze medallist behind Cathy Freeman and Lorraine Graham of Jamaica in the Sydney Olympics, she posted her career best of 49.59 the following year and, in the lead up to the world championships in Edmonton, was the favourite for the gold medal.

But she never made it. A bone spur in the back of her right heel damaged her Achilles tendon and eventually landed her on the operating table.

“The surgery was basically career threatening,” Merry said. “They removed one quarter of my heel bone and 30% of my Achilles tendon.”

She spent all of last season doing television work and was a big hit with the viewers throughout the summer. But, if the viewers enjoyed her, she found it all so frustrating, admitting: “It was a very, very difficult couple of years watching all the championships go by. That’s why I am looking forward to competing here in Cork. I was here a few years ago and I won both the 100m and 200m and I must say I enjoyed it very much. This will be my first individual race in two years and I am pretty excited about it.”

A couple of weeks ago she made a dramatic return to the track for the European Cup Super League linking up with Helen Karagounis, Catherine Murphy and Lee McConnell for a spectacular 4 x 400m relay victory that kept Britain in the Super League. That day she ran a blistering 51.4 second leg that took GB from fourth to first and set up the sensational win. “I am getting better,” she said yesterday. “I am taking each week as it comes.”

Ireland’s record holder Karen Shinkins, withdrew from the 400m yesterday evening. She has been struggling with her form in recent weeks and her coach Paul Doyle said she was taking a couple of weeks’ rest.

There is an exciting field for this race that includes Italian champion Danielle Perpoli, two other English athletes, Leslie Owusu and Kim Wall, Julian Clay of the USA and Hungarian champion Barbara Pethran.

In the absence of Shinkins, national junior record holder Joanne Cuddihy (Kilkenny City Harriters) will be the leading Irish runner with clubmate Fiona Norwood replacing Shinkins.

World indoor bronze medallist Paul McKee will be missing from the men’s 400 but Jaimie Baulch, who dead heated with him for third place in Birmingham was on his way via London last night, according to City Sports chairman Dick Hodgins. Dave McCarthy will spearhead the Irish challenge. The field is headed by Jamaica’s Danny McFarlane, bronze medalist in the World 400m final.

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