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Ailis McSweeney: Derval can deliver on biggest stage

The Cork-born hurdler is built to perform when the championship pressure is on, writes her training partner Ailis McSweeney.

Derval O'Rourke: biggest race is the next one.
Derval O'Rourke: biggest race is the next one.
Image: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

TONIGHT DERVAL O’ROURKE runs in one of the biggest races of her life. The race you haven’t ran yet always seems to be the most important.

It’s worth looking back at Derval’s success to date: World Indoor Gold 2006, European Silver 2006 and 2010, European Indoor Silver 2009.

That is a huge collection of medals for an athlete who rarely enters a competition as any kind of favourite.

But that’s what makes Derval different — what is written down on paper never shapes her belief in what she can achieve. Perhaps the best example was her fourth place finish in the World Championships in 2009.

Going to Berlin, Derval had only run under 13s once that year and nobody gave her a chance in hell of doing anything of note. Cue 12.86s in the heats, 12.73s in the semis, and 12.67s a national record for fourth in the final.  Although it wasn’t a medal finish it was undoubtedly one of her best performances ever and something like what we’re hoping for tonight.

The semi-finals are on at 7.15pm and Derval is in the second race. She has a really tough draw with two of the best heat winners and some of the quickest girls this season.  It didn’t help that the heats were quite uneven, partly due to Jessica Ennis not starting in the second which was won in a very slow 13.09s.

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Sally Pearson has a world record plan and will cruise through this semi. Lolo Jones is a great championship athlete (bar the odd fall) and may take the next auto-qualifying spot. If those two athletes have a clear run, then Derval will be relying on going through as a fastest qualifier. The two available places could be filled from this semi-final. The British (ahem, American) athlete Porter has a great season’s best but didn’t impress in the heats and seems to be having some problems since the London Diamond League.  Zelinka, the heptathlete, is a quality hurdler who won the stacked Canadian trials.

She finished just behind Ennis in that incredible race a few days ago with a new personal best of 12.65s. Even Berings is a potential threat — she looked poor in the heats but had taken a hard fall in warm up.

I’m getting nervous just writing this! It’s been a privilege being part of the fine tuning in the last couple of weeks for Derval’s Olympics. Spare a thought for coaches Sean and Terrie Cahill who will be sick to the stomach tonight in London having given immeasurable time and thought to what is required for 12 point seconds of running and hurdling.

C’mon Derval!!

Ailis McSweeney is is the current Irish 100m record-holder. She will write for TheScore throughout the next week as well as working as an analyst for RTE television.

Check out all TheScore’s London 2012 coverage here>

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Ailis McSweeney

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