BY KIERAN McCARTHY
DARRAGH McElhinney will be the envy of all his friends and classmates when he returns to school at Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí in a few weeks.
While tales of summer holidays in Portugal and Spain will be traded, as well as stories of staycations here at home, Darragh will be able to trump them all because he jetted off to Brazil on Sunday evening to play an active role in the Olympic Games.
The talented Glengarriff athlete (15) has been picked as a run training partner for Irish Olympic modern pentathlete Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe, as the two share the same coach, Steven Macklin. Darragh will travel to and from Brazil with Macklin.
Son of Tony and Breda, Darragh will spend two weeks in Brazil, based at a training camp in Uberlandia, outside Rio, where he’ll help Lanigan O’Keeffe’s training.
Ahead of the most exciting two weeks of his life, we caught up with Darragh to chat about the impending adventure of a lifetime.
Kieran McCarthy (KMC): It’s getting closer, but first, you signed off your season in style last weekend with another win and a PB?
Darragh McElhinney (DME): On Friday I was running in the Morton Games, which is a fairly big meet; they have an international mile that had a lot of sub four minute milers. I ran in the 1500m, in three minutes and 54 seconds, so I knocked three seconds off my PB.
‘On Sunday, at the All-Ireland club championships, I was running for Bantry AC in the U17 1500m, which I won.
KMC: Good stuff, that was a good end to a good season.
DME: Last year went well too, but this probably was my best season. I ran 11 races this year, which is the most I have ever run in one season, and I was only disappointed with one of them.
There was the All-Ireland schools’ mile in Tullamore at the end of May, there was the Tailteann Games (an inter-provincial race) where I won, and that was the selection process for the Irish schools’ team. When I won the 1500m at SIAB schools’ international meet in Kent, that was a pure shock because I wasn’t expecting that.
KMC: Now, it’s all about going to Brazil and helping Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe and his Olympic preparations. How did it all come about and what exactly will you be doing out there?
DME: It’s only really sunk in over the last couple of the days. I didn’t want to be thinking about it too much when I was competing but last Sunday was my last race of the year, so I can concentrate on Rio now and look forward to the two weeks over there.
Arthur and myself share the same running coach (Steven Macklin), and because Arthur has five sports being a pentathlete, and running is one of them, he needs a run training partner. He asked my coach would I be interested, and I wasn’t going to say no!
At the training camp we are going to at in Uberlandia, which is a bit outside Rio, there is a track there, and trails. On the track, I will be running his work outs with him so, let’s say, he wants to run an 800m in two minutes and 20 seconds, I need to make sure that my laps are 70 seconds and 70 seconds, rather than going too fast or too slow. For the longer runs, it’s more beneficial to have someone with you, it makes it easier to have someone to chat to while you train.
When I was asked first would I do an Olympic prep week with Arthur, I thought it was a training camp in Dublin and I thought that was brilliant – but then they mentioned Brazil and that I was going over, and I couldn’t believe it. It’s overwhelming. It will be some experience.
KMC: It really is the opportunity of a lifetime, will you get the chance to take in any Olympic events in Rio on your off days?
DME: Because Arthur has five events and he will have to concentrate on the other events, there will be times when I have some spare time. I am travelling with my coach and we have been looking at tickets to different events, like the boxing, swimming and diving. We’ll wait and see.
Where we are is a bit outside Rio so, let’s say, we have a morning training session, we can look to get a flight to Rio, take in an event and come back the next morning. I think we’ll spend a day in Rio watching some events, but I’m not 100 per cent what that is just yet.
KMC: Probably a bit of an understatement here, but getting to sample the Olympics and see what it takes to be an Olympian will give you the taste for more. You’ve decided to concentrate on athletics more, haven’t you?
DME: I was playing Gaelic football all along as well but while you can get away with playing different sports when you’re younger, the older you get you have to pick one if you want to get the most out of it – and I have decided to concentrate on running.
If you are only half-committed to a sport, that means there is somebody doing more than you and they’ll do better than you then. I have given athletics more time this season than before and it has paid off, so I have decided to devote myself to it alright. It’s hard to make a future in athletics, but even to be a successful senior would be great.