Athletics News

Breaking Barriers on Road to Rieti

Cathal Dennehy’s feature this week is on in-form hurlder Sarah Lavin who broke Derval’ORourke’s national junior outdoor 100m Hurdles record twice last weekend. Cathal gives us a good insight into her character and her training to date. There’s a long way  to go before she can come close to matching the feats of Derval O’Rourke but as Cathal explains, it won’t be for the lack of effort.

Barriers on Road to Rieti

For Sarah Lavin, this much is certain:
desire has never been an issue. If anything, she’s often wanted it too much. After all, this is an athlete
who at the age of four – yes, four
knew that from the myriad sports available to her, athletics was already the
chosen one.

And so the young girl, still barely the
height of the hurdles she clears at such impressive speed these days, plagued
and pestered her parents to let her join an athletics club. None would have
her. Too young, they all said. It was a few years before Emerald AC said
welcome aboard, and what a good decision that turned out to be for the Limerick

From the start, you see, Lavin was winning,
taking county and Munster titles with ease. Athletes so young from the club
didn’t usually go to the All-Ireland’s, but again Lavin pleaded with her
parents and club officials to let her take her chance. She went there and again,
she won.  

While some have reservations about children
so young being encouraged in a competitive, rather than a participatory, sense,
Lavin doesn’t see it that way. “I think it’s quite important that if a child
wants success, that the parents give it to them,” she says. “I think if I
hadn’t got that opportunity, I wouldn’t be as competitive as I am today.”

That competitive fire brought countless
underage national titles, and it wasn’t long before she made her mark
internationally, taking triple gold at the schools’ international in 2009. Two
years later, she took bronze against Europe’s best under-18s in the European
Youth Olympics in Turkey, setting an Irish Youth record of 13.62 seconds in the

Last year, Lavin closed out a memorable
schools’ career by taking the senior girls’ sprint hurdles title in 13.73, breaking
a record held by her coach Noelle Morrissey since 1983. Lavin is quick to heap
praise on her inspirational coach, who has passed on so much experience from
her own elite-level sprint hurdling career to her protégée. “Noelle’s exceptional,”
she says. “She knows me better than myself. She’s one of my best friends, knows
what I’m going through at all stages. I’m really lucky to have her.”

Another person key to keeping Lavin on the
right track is strength and conditioning coach John Cleary, whose eagle eye for
weaknesses and imbalances, and tailor-made gym programme, has seen Lavin overcome
the hamstring problems that plagued her for the past few seasons.

With a clean bill of health, Lavin went to
Barcelona in July for the World Junior Championships in the form of her life
last summer. In the qualifying heat, she advanced in third place with a 13.90
run, a race she described as rusty having spent the best part of a week hanging
around the athletes’ hotel, counting down the hours to race day.

In the semi-final, Lavin knew she required
the race of her life to advance, and she duly produced it, until the ninth
hurdle, anyway. Clearing the barriers at a speed and level of aggression she’d
never before experienced, Lavin was closing in on third place, a big PB, and a
spot in the final when her world suddenly came crashing down.

“I reached a point where I lost control,”
she says. “It’s difficult to maintain the rhythm when you’re not used to it,
when you’re not in those pressure situations that often.” Hitting a hurdle is
nothing new to Lavin, as the almost constant bruise on her trail leg will attest.
“You learn to deal with it. It was just unfortunate it happened when I was
having the race of my life. I learned a huge amount from Barcelona though. It’s
strange, but I’ve got so much confidence from it. You realise these girls from
all over the world are no better than you; that you can compete at the exact
same level as them.”

With the thrills and spills of the World
Junior’s now disappearing into her rear-view mirror, attention has long since turned
to the 2013 season, where Lavin is already making a major mark in her final
junior year. She thought long and hard about her third-level options both at
home and abroad last summer, and finally decided to go stateside to Princeton
University, New Jersey. In the end, the deciding factor was regular access to
top-quality races, something she felt was lacking in 2012. However, Lavin has
since opted out of the American system and returned home, and will recommence
her studies in Ireland in the Autumn.

The Limerick hurdler began this season in
impressive form, and after a few decent early-season races, demonstrated with
two sizzling runs last weekend that she is right among the leading contenders
for next month’s European Junior championships in Rieti, Italy. Lavin smashed
Derval O’Rourke’s national junior record of 13.61 in Geneva on Saturday afternoon,
posting 13.50 seconds in the heat. She then went on to lower that mark even
further later in the day to win the B final in 13.45 seconds, a time that would
have earned her a bronze medal at the last European Junior Championships and
silver at the previous edition. Next month, it’ll be two years since Lavin won
bronze at the European Youth Olympics, and she is already relishing the thought
of renewing rivalry with many of those same competitors at the European Juniors
in Rieti. The goal is simple, even its difficulty is anything but: she wants a
medal. “I’d say about 13.4 will reach the podium, maybe 13.5,”she says.

Medal or no medal, Lavin certainly won’t be
coming up short for want of trying.

Training Week


Tuesday: Hurdle session, 3×1 hurdle, 3×2
hurdles, 3×3 hurdles

Wednesday: 10x30m

Thursday: Light Technique-based gym session

Friday: Circuit

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: Hurdle session

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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

1 Comment

  1. Martin
    June 8, 2013 at 7:23 am — Reply

    I’ve seen Sarah Run since her early teens and have watched her progress into a fine athlete and a wonderful person. She deserves all the success she earns!

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