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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019
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Bobsleigh at the Winter Olympics and the track at London 2012, to taking the tag scene by storm

Claire Bergin is living a life immersed in tag rugby, having represented Ireland at the Olympics in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

WHEN CLAIRE BERGIN was younger, she appeared on a TV show though her athletics club.

Claire Bergin and Michelle Carey Bergin gives the baton to Michelle Carey at the World Championships in 2011. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

She was eleven or twelve, she doesn’t quite remember. Nor does she remember the name of the show.

What she does remember though, is what she said.

“I want to be in the Olympics when I grow up,” she smiled at the camera, beaming from ear to ear.

Little did she know at the time, that she’d actually represent Ireland at two Olympics — both summer and winter.

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The Dubliner laughs now as she recalls various stories like that from her childhood, but when asked if going to the Olympics was always a goal, the conversation turns more serious.

“Yeah,” she tells The42. “That was a focus. I was pretty determined from a young age.

“I really wanted to. That was the dream like. Athletics was my life.

Andrews-Heffernan, Michelle Carey, Joanne Cuddihy and Claire Bergin Marian Heffernan, Joanne Cuddihy, Bergin and Michelle Carey at the 2011 World Championships. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Obviously I never thought I’d make anything of it. The Winter Olympics never even crossed my mind, but once something came across as an opportunity, we were completely determined to do so.

“We were all from athletics backgrounds, we were all used to training hard and we all had that same dream of making it to the Olympics, or competing at the highest level we could anyway.

“We worked hard to get that. Even with all the other championships along the way. Obviously the Olympics is the pinnacle of any sport, but going to World Championships and Europeans and World Junior Games and all of those are amazing experiences along the way as well.

“The Olympics is obviously a different level altogether.”

It all started off with athletics, but interestingly, Bergin actually competed in the two-women bobsleigh at the Winter Olympics in 2010 before taking to the track at London 2012.

The 32-year-old has been running since she was a kid. Athletics was always her sport.

She joined Dundrum South Dublin (DSD) Athletics Club in primary school, and rose through the ranks. From there, she proved herself as a ‘pretty successful junior athlete,’ as she says herself, modestly.

Claire Bergin and Aoife Hoey Bergin and Aoife Hoey at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Source: William Cherry

Bergin had really started to make a name for herself athletics scene, but then she decided to take a break for a year or so. She got injured, she was sick, things weren’t working out.

During her hiatus, she went off travelling for a few months and then came the ‘eureka moment’.

“I thought ‘God, I’m still really young and relatively talented, I should give the running a shot again,” she smiles.

“Literally as I decided to come back to that, I got a phone call from a couple of girls who were involved in the Irish bobsleigh team. They were looking for new brakewoman — the person who runs and sits in the back.

“They needed someone else to come on board, so I said I’d give it a go.

“I didn’t know how running was going to go and I thought I’d take a chance. It was a good opportunity to travel and experience different things, and do a different sport. It was a bit mad and different I suppose.”

Mad and different maybe, but the chance paid off.

Aoife Hoey and Claire Bergin during training Bergin and Hoey finished 17th at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Source: William Cherry/INPHO

After some time abroad training and racing on a very ‘full-on schedule,’ Bergin, alongside her partner and pilot Aoife Hoey became the first Irish women to compete in bobsleigh at a Winter Olympics.

The duo finished 17th in Vancouver in 2010 —  a huge achievement considering the fact that winter sports are such a minority in Ireland.

All the while, she had still been donning the green singlet on the track, where possible.

“I’d been making relay teams and doing ok nationally,” she continued. “Athletics in the summer and bobsleigh in the winter.

“I had to put on extra weight for bobsleigh because I needed to be heavier, but I needed to trim down for athletics. So when I came back from the Winter Olympics, I had a focus and made a real effort to lose weight and get faster.

“That summer was the European Championships for the 400m relay, so I made that. It was a pretty quick turnaround time.”

The following year, Bergin and her teammates qualified for the 400m relay at the 2012 Olympics through the World Championships.

Aoife Hoey and Claire Bergin Hoey and Bergin in Vancouver. Source: William Cherry

“It all happened very quickly I suppose in the end, with the major championships all coming together.

“Work gave me time off, a paid year out, when they saw that we were probably going to qualify for London with the relay team. They were very supportive, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without their support.”

Marian Heffernan — Rob’s wife, Joanne Cuddihy, Jessie Barr and Catriona Cuddihy finished sixth in their heat, and did not advance.

Although she didn’t run on the day, Bergin still became the first woman to represent Ireland at both the Winter and Summer Olympics.

Now though, she dons the green jersey through another sport. Her life is centred on tag rugby.

On her return from London, she took a step back from athletics and went in search of something new. She took a brief diversion through Sevens with the Irish development squad, but then she found tag.

“I was looking to do something else I suppose. I had finished with athletics and wanted a different challenge.

“I played sevens with the Irish development squad for about a year. That opportunity came up so I did that for a bit but I really didn’t like the contact. It wasn’t for me.

Claire Bergin wins her heat Bergin in action for DSD AC in 2012. Source: Darren Kidd

“Then one of my good friends [who played tag] — they were short girls for a match and asked if I’d come out and play. I did and I loved it!”

In one way, it all started as a way to ease her off crazy training loads and away from competitive sport, but she laughs that she’s still doing just as much.

She captains her club team, Broadlake Exiles, and has been selected for the Ireland team every year since she started in 2014. Their most recent competition was last weekend’s Tri Nations tournament where Ireland beat Australia and Britain for the silverware.

Working her ’9-5′ in Deloitte while splitting her evenings and weekends between different tag commitments is tough at times — on top of spending valued time with family and friends — and a far cry from what the Foxrock native expected when she took up the sport.

“I wanted take a step back from the intensity of athletics and that high level of sport. I was used to training every day and doing stuff every day, so I’ve ended up replacing that with tag.”

But she’s happy out with the replacement, and enjoying every minute of her tag experience.

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Ireland no longer just tagging along, they’re up there with the best in the world

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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