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Why I have a girl crush on... Derval O'Rourke

A hero on and off the track.

LAST WEEK, THE European Indoor Athletics Championships took place in Belgrade, Serbia. It was an enjoyable championship, if not especially notable from an Irish perspective.

Athletes like Ciara Mageean, Ciara Neville and Phil Healy all acquitted themselves well, but none of the Irish contingent managed to end up on the podium.

Back in the RTÉ studio, Derval O’Rourke and Jerry Kiernan analysed their efforts. As always, they were firm, but encouraging when assessing Ireland’s performances.

Watching Derval O’Rourke speak, it was impossible to not be reminded of just how good she was back in the day. In fact, she was one of our greatest ever athletes.

Over the course of her career, O’Rourke won two silver medals at the European Championships, two bronze medals at the European Indoor Championships and a gold medal at the World Indoor Championships.

There was also an agonising fourth place finish at the IAAF World Championships that saw O’Rourke finish behind a Jamaican athlete, who had previously been implicated in a steroids ring.

To date, O’Rourke remains the only Irish woman to have won gold at the World Indoor Championships. At the time, she bested Glory Alozie, an Olympic silver medalist, and Susanna Kallur, a Swedish athlete who holds the world record in 60m hurdles.

She’s one of just a handful of Irish track athletes to win medals across different championships, putting her in a league with the likes of Sonia O’Sullivan, John Treacy and Eamonn Coughlan.

Athletics has had its reputation sullied in recent years, thanks to persistent doping and the failure of its governing body to adequately address it. Every victory is tinged with cynicism and as a result, many have fallen out of love with the sport.

Perhaps that’s why some of Ireland’s athletes aren’t revered in the same way as soccer, rugby and GAA stars. If so, that’s a shame because competing at a consistently high level in international athletics is nothing to be sniffed at.

For all its problems, athletics remains one of the most competitive sports in the world. It’s a truly global sport as opposed to one that’s relegated to just a few countries. (42 nations won medals in athletics at the most recent Olympics.)

For an Irish athlete like O’Rourke to have enjoyed success on the global and European stage is awe-inspiring – something that’s becoming increasingly clear in the wake of our recent medal drought.

Since retiring in 2014, O’Rourke has added a few strings to her bow. She has published two cookbooks – both of which are practical and steer clear of unattainable, wanky ingredients – and emerged as an insightful sports commentator and talented media performer.

She has also shown time and time again that she’s more than willing to speak out against the establishment

In January, she tweeted a photo of thirteen men in suits, including a number of government ministers, opening the Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena and wrote, “If I tweet that I find this picture odd is twitter gonna give out to me?!”

Her point? There were no high-profile athletes or, God forbid, women present.

Source: The Late Late Show/YouTube

On an appearance on The Late Late Show in February, she also spoke out against Sport Ireland and their failure to formally appoint her to their board after being informed that she had been a successful candidate last year.

If they got back to me, that would be great.

Source: The Late Late Show/YouTube

In other words, she’s not afraid to stick her head above the parapet and in doing so, she has become an invaluable advocate for the sport of athletics and for women in sport.

Outspoken, ferocious and the reason we don’t eat Koka noodles every evening. We salute you, Derval.

Last week’s Girl Crush: Reese Witherspoon >

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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