Rising to the challenge
Olympic Solidarity for Vancouver hopefuls
Irish bobsleigh driver Aoife Hoey has just missed out on competing in the Olympic Games on the past two occasions, but is determined to make it “third time lucky” and qualify for women’s bobsleigh at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The 26 year-old former triple jumper is the experienced driver of the Irish team, while two potential brakewomen, Claire Bergin and Leona Bryne, are battling hard to impress in order to secure the position as her first-choice team-mate at the 2010 Games, which are just two months away. Olympic Solidarity has provided the 26-year-old athlete with a scholarship to support her in her preparations.
From triple jump to bobsleigh
It is not by chance that former track and field athletes are talented for bobsleigh and get into this fast winter sport. Aoife tells how she got involved: “I was a track and field athlete, so when the Olympic Council of Ireland held trials at the National Stadium to identify candidates for a women’s bobsleigh team, I took part. As a triple jumper, I knew I had the power and speed to be the right sort of athlete for bobsleigh. I was only 16 and too young to be considered, as it turned out, but I was determined to get involved as soon as I was old enough. At that time, my sister, Siobhan, was part of the team. I trained hard and, as soon as I turned 18, I was invited to join the squad. For the first couple of years I was the brakewoman, but ever since I have been the driver of the team.”
Balancing sport and profession
Aiofe’s athletic career does not earn her a living, but she manages to combine her sports life with her professional one. “I have to work for a living”, says Aiofe, explaining: “Our season runs from October to February but I am fortunate enough to work for the Irish Track & Field Association, who are very understanding of my situation and allow me to take my leave around the competition time. During the offseason, I fit our training schedule around my 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. office hours. We’ll be doing lots of gym-based power and endurance work. Claire and Leona are both students so they have been able to balance their training around their studies.”
A boost to training
It is a daily juggling act, and the Olympic Solidarity scholarship has helped Aoife to train professionally alongside her job: “The Solidarity support enables us to travel and compete around the world and also to practise as, perhaps not surprisingly, Ireland doesn’t have a bobsleigh track. Last summer we were able to train and compete on the old Olympic track at Lake Placid in the America’s Cup, which turned out to be a very successful trip as we finished fourth in two races, beating a number of American athletes. It is very costly just to fly the bob over, which illustrates the expenses involved in the event – it’s almost like the Formula One of winter sports – and the Solidarity support makes a big difference. When it comes to training, our nearest track is probably in Austria, so there is a lot of travelling involved. We have a bob that we use at home with wheels on to practise starts and do some strength work but there’s no substitute for getting out there on the track.”
Sights on Vancouver
These days, Aiofe is trying to qualify for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, and the Irish team is currently on its way to the World Cup in Winterberg (Germany). “There are only 20 teams allowed to compete in the women’s bobsleigh at the Olympic Games, and with each of the leading countries, such as Germany, USA and Canada, given two slots, it makes it a very difficult task just to get to Vancouver” says Aoife. She adds: “But it is well within our capabilities and we are confident that we can do it. If and when we qualify, then we’ll look at setting goals for the competition and see if there’s any way we could get some time on the track before the Games start.”
About Olympic Solidarity
Olympic Solidarity is an IOC organisation and the body that ensures that athletes with talent, regardless of their financial status, have an equal chance of reaching the Olympic Games and succeeding in the Olympic arena. It is responsible for administering and managing the National Olympic Committees (NOCs)’ share of the revenue from the sale of broadcasting rights to the Olympic Games. Working in particular with the most disadvantaged NOCs and their Continental Associations, Olympic Solidarity uses this money to develop a range of assistance programmes. Besides individual scholarships for athletes, there are also “Team Support Grants” to support ice hockey and curling teams likely to qualify for the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.
The total budget for the 2009-2012 Olympic Solidarity quadrennial period amounts to USD 311 million. Within this budget, USD 61 million is earmarked to provide support to athletes.
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