Sometimes I still chase Sophie around like she’s a 10-year-old – The Irish Times

    Sometimes I still chase Sophie around like she’s a 10-year-old – The Irish Times

    We were walking out from the crowds at Morton Stadium last Sunday when a few people come up to wish my daughter Sophie well before heading off to the Paris Olympics, having just won her first national senior title.

    In many ways it was a special moment for her to win the 1,500m, and for me to present her medal in the very same event I won five times. The last of those was back in 2000, a few weeks before the Sydney Olympics, and two years before Sophie was even born.

    People were saying it’s something to be particularly proud of, how excited they were to see her race in Paris, and a part of me was wondering how it is so special. Later I was told just how rare this is, that we’re the first mother and daughter to compete for Ireland in athletics at the Olympics.

    There have only been two more in athletics in Olympic history – most recently Britain’s Liz McColgan and her daughter Eilish, and Germany’s Marie Dollinger and her daughter Brunhilde long before that.

    I think for Sophie growing up, and with her father Nic and I still so involved in athletics, we never thought her competing in the Olympics was impossible. We just didn’t think about it that much.

    Now that it is about to happen, it’s not that much of a surprise. It’s been a sort of a progression. You could see it coming. The only surprise really was how quickly she did qualify, last summer, when she ran the 4:02.15 at the World Championships in Budapest (inside the qualifying time of 4:02.50). Because that was unexpected.

    I’ve said before that all the way up from when Sophie first started running cross country aged nine, we were the same as any other parents, taking her to the training and the races, watching on from the sidelines, but never really coaching her.

    Right now, we do have a little bit more input, just because of where she is training and racing, slotting in with the Melbourne track club based in Spain, that Nic manages, or where I might be based over the summer. So we’re at the stage now where we do discuss what she’s doing in training, and racing, more so to ensure she doesn’t do too much, or is doing something she shouldn’t.

    I still feel that input is more as a parent than a coach, so you want others to have input as well, so that you’re not toning things down a bit too much, compared to someone who would be more independent in that role.

    Since Sophie started at the University of Washington in Seattle four years ago, she’s been coached by Maurica Powell, and she still has that interaction at this time of year. But she also just goes with the flow, a bit like I used to do in my day, training with different groups and in a different environment, when away from my college coach.

    One of the things I do try to do a little more is to get Sophie to understand the training she’s doing and why she’s doing it, which is very important for any athlete.

    After last season, she also had her first real running injury over the winter, a knee issue first, then a bone-stress injury, in her tibia. I’ve had lots of experience of dealing with injuries, how to best recover, and the cross-training you can do while injured to maintain fitness.

    This was also a good time to be around her a little bit more, because whenever any athlete is injured, and can’t train with their team-mates as usual, you’re often left there to train alone in the pool or on the bike. For injured athletes, it’s even more important they are open to taking in the advice and direction, so that they can maintain a good routine and focus to what they are doing.

    Growing up in Melbourne, in school at Wesley College, Sophie was always pretty good at cross country. She also got away with quite a bit, because she was fairly talented. She was training enough, just not a whole lot, while also playing basketball and soccer.

    In many ways that was good for her; there was always room for improvement, and I still see it that way. There are so many areas that she can improve on, to get better, that she hasn’t even touched yet. She’s still only in the early stages of training as a senior athlete, nowhere even near yet of what a professional athlete is doing.

    Naturally she can be a little upset if races don’t work out as planned, but I also think she gets over it much quicker than maybe I would have. I think the new generation of athletes move on from things much easier.

    Sometimes I do still chase her around like she’s a 10-year-old, trying to do stuff for her because you can, like asking has she got her spikes, has she got her passport? That’s the difference between being a mother and a coach, because you also have this emotional connection, and this checklist in your head that you’ve had since they were very young. Sometimes they like that, and sometimes they don’t.

    Whenever she’s racing, like last weekend, for me it’s maybe more of a subconscious nervousness, where you’re tuned into the race with much greater detail than any other race you’d be watching. You’re watching the race, but you’re really only watching one person.

    Sophie’s college coach knew I would be in Santry on Sunday, and we’d discussed before that maybe she should just go from 300m out, see how fast she can go. Then you start thinking that might be a bit too soon, because Sophie is usually better at following than leading.

    But once you have that plan in your head, it’s just about putting yourself in a position to follow that instruction, and that’s what she did to win the race. All that settles me a bit as well, it’s really a sense of relief when she wins a race like that.

    Of course the Olympics is the biggest sporting stage of all and I think, for Sophie, it’s still a little bit surreal. She possibly doesn’t get yet just how big it is.

    I also understand well what it’s like as an athlete at the Olympics, that your family like to see you, and that’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes that’s harder on the parent, the athlete is in their bubble anyway. You don’t want to add an extra layer of stress. But Nic will be in the village with the Australian team, so he will see her anyway if she needs anything.

    Paris is another massive step up, but this is where you want to be, so you have to just go out and enjoy it, have fun. They are usually the last words I tell Sophie before every race anyway.

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