If there’s one great misconception about the Olympic sport, it’s the belief of some casual observers that the athletes made it, at least financially. The reality is of course different, the vast majority does not earn enough from their sport to be able to make a living from it.
Ouise Shanahan isn’t in athletics for the money, of course, otherwise the 25-year-old Corkwoman would have left long ago.
“The general public has no idea how little money some of the Olympic athletes get,” she says. “When people think of Irish athletes they often think of the few who are sponsored but there is a subset of them who are trying to become elite but without the funding.”
These athletes are the target of the first series of grants to be awarded by the Jerry Kiernan Foundation, established by Kiernan’s friend Murt Coleman to honor the memory of the late coach. His goal is to do what Kiernan has done for so long: lend a helping hand to Irish athletes.
Shanahan is one of 22 athletes to be sponsored this year, with over €30,000 to be shared between them.
“It’s going to make a huge difference for this sub-elite group,” says Shanahan. “Athletics Ireland is trying to do as much as possible but the money from it could be the difference between an athlete who can afford to go to camp at Easter and having structured training over the summer would really help or it could be the difference of changing your shoes every six months instead of every year, which could make all the difference when it comes to injuries.”
Shanahan knows that big breakthroughs often depend on small margins. Walking down the Olympic qualifying course last year, she was just outside the World Athletics quota limit for the women’s 800m.
As a gifted teenager, she was European Youth Champion at the 2013 Olympic Games and a finalist at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. But her involvement extended to the classroom, and the intensity she brought to her studies was one of the reasons her personal best of 800m plateaued at 2:08 between the ages of 16 and 21.
In September 2019 she began a PhD in Quantum Physics at the University of Cambridge, where she has since been educated under the tutelage of Phil O’Dell, who has taken over the reins from her father Ray. Given her academic commitment, Shanahan often found that running “would fall apart a bit” as she was studying for exams in May during her college years, but the PhD allows her to balance her workload around her education while also ensuring that she “has a roof over my head and food on the table.”
In February last year, Shanahan lowered her 800-meter indoor best to 2:01.44. In June, she told her manager that she had a 10% chance of making it to Tokyo and he encouraged her to try. The next day she boarded a plane to Prague where she achieved a key result for her world rankings with a time of 2:01.99.
Victory at the National Championships a few weeks later put them into a qualifying position and ensured Shanahan’s first-ever Irish senior vest would be an Olympic. In Tokyo, she finished seventh in her 800m in 2:03.57.
“The Olympics was a dream come true, something I’ve wanted to do since I was nine,” she says.
With a view to the summer, the focus is on the World University Games in Chengdu, China at the end of June and the Europeans in Munich in August. She will be bypassing the Worlds in July in Oregon even if she qualifies, as she believes it will be “a much better experience fighting for a final at the other events than going to the Worlds and in the first.” round to be eliminated”.
“The long-term plan is Paris 2024, so everything I do has to be aimed at making myself as good an athlete as I can be in two years time,” she says. “To see that progress year after year.”
Jerry Kiernan Foundation
List of supported athletes for 2022
Reece Ademola (long jump); Donal Devane (middle/long haul); Thomas Devaney (medium/long haul); John Fitzsimons (800/1500 m); Roisin Flanagan (1500m/obstacle course/5km); Efrem Gidey (medium/long haul); Cillian Greene* (400 m); Shane Howard (long jump); Keelan Kilrehill (Medium/Long Haul) Peter Lynch (Medium/Long Haul); Sean McGinley (800m/1500m); Mark Milner (800/1500m); Aoife O’Cuill (long haul); Iseult O’Donnell (800m/1500m); Chris O’Donnell* (400m); Jack O’Leary (medium/long haul); Louise Shanahan* (800/1500m); Roland Surlis (800m); Hiko Tonosa (medium/long haul); John Travers (medium/long haul); Michaela Walsh (shot put/hammer); Kate Veale (race)
https://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/athletics/the-general-public-has-no-idea-how-little-funding-some-of-the-olympic-athletes-are-getting-louise-shanahan-41527351.html “The general public has no idea how little money some of the Olympic athletes receive” – Louise Shanahan