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'We all dream of medals' - from Mizen to Malin charity cycle to the verge of Tokyo qualification

Irish Paralympic hopeful Martin Gordon has come a long way over the past few years – and is determined to reach the pinnacle.

“THAT IS THE spark that lit the flame,” Martin Gordon smiles, reeling in the years.

martin Irish para-cyclist, Martin Gordon, pictured in support of Paralympics Ireland’s new fundraising campaign ‘The Next Level’. Source: Simon Burch.

The Paralympic hopeful caught the cycling bug in 2007, taking part in a charity cycle from Mizen Head to Malin Head in aid of Irish Guide Dogs. 

“Being a guide dog owner myself, I was coaxed onto the back of a tandem,” he recalls. “I had longer hair and a bit more weight on me, being a student in Galway at the time! I loved it. I said, ‘This is great fun,’ and did it more and more.”

Now, having had his Rio 2016 dream dashed at the final hurdle via a puncture, Gordon is on the verge of qualifying for the Tokyo Games this summer alongside his pilot, Eamonn Byrne.

A Sligo native but living in working in Dublin as an in-house barrister for An Garda Síochána, it’s interesting how Gordon’s cycling journey all comes back to that Mizen to Malin cycle in a way.

In late 2016, a casual conversation over lunch with his friend, Conor Kennedy — a strength and conditioning coach — left Gordon ruing the disappointment of Rio and discussing future plans. He was questioning whether or not he would continue cycling, and toying with the idea of a return to rowing, but came to the conclusion that a switch from endurance to sprinting was the way to go.

Byrne was the potential pilot Cycling Ireland had in mind, and coincidentally, Kennedy — the brother of Gordon’s first pilot, Sarah, from the Mizen to Malin cycle — was training him that evening.

“He said it to Eamon that night and the rest, as they say, from that sporting perspective is history,” Gordon grins, reflecting on his partnership and friendship with Byrne, who works as a Garda.

In four days time, the pair hope to effectively book their ticket to Tokyo. With no other competitions on the horizon for track riders, the team are in Majorca, with a 1km time trial down for decision on the velodrome on Saturday.

There’s three bikes qualified, and the best riders who will bring home the best possible results from Tokyo, go. Simple as.

“How close am I to one of those spots? I’d like to think I’m within the mix. If my times so far are anything to go by, I’m definitely in with a very, very good shout of taking one of those spots in Tokyo. It’s make or break this weekend, really, unless something else happens.”

Optimistic and hopeful, Gordon doesn’t have to look far for motivation. His five-year-old daughter, Nora, and partner, Louise, are always on his mind.

“The way we approach it is we’re going to do it on Saturday and that’s it. Before we came out to camp I said to Eamon, ‘There’s no bloody way that I’m going to be leaving my daughter for three weeks to come home with disappointment.’

martin 2 Gordon with pilot, Eamonn Byrne. Source: Simon Burch.

“That’s the attitude I take into all competitions. I’ve a little daughter at home, leaving her is always tough and she hates to see me go. My attitude is: there’s no disappointment. All the sacrifices I make but more importantly all the sacrifices my family have to make to support me and my sport – that’s not going to be in vain.”

Preparations haven’t exactly been easy, with no velodrome in Ireland. Before this camp in Spain, Gordon hadn’t been on one since World Championships in Canada last February.

But he makes no excuses. He and Byrne controlled the controllables, and worked around the setbacks. They brought start gates to running tracks and worked tirelessly on their explosive start, they left no stone unturned in the gym, and got stronger, fitter, faster It’s all coming into place now on the velodrome.

“It’s not without its difficulties but it’s not without opportunities either,” he nods. “There was definitely opportunity and if you look for it, you’ll find it, that’s what we did.”

Gordon’s career has certainly been on an upward trajectory since 2017, when he and Byrne contested their first World Championships.

The difference is night and day, so he says.

“There’s no comparison, absolutely no comparison. In 2017, we were as wet behind the ear in these events as you’re going to get. We had the potential, we had the physiology but we did not have all the effective training input and everything that we’ve had since then.

“Since then, we’ve now become a top bike in the world at what we do… in what is a relatively short space of time. We’ve gone from novices to a top-five, top-six bike consistently in the world for the last couple of years.”

That progression brings pressure, of course, and rising expectations, but that’s something that sits predominantly well with Gordon. 

“The only pressure that’s put on us is what we put on ourselves. Our coaches, our families, they know the work that’s gone in, they know we’re in control of that process, that we own it. But you always want to achieve, you don’t want to disappoint, neither yourself or those who are supporting you.

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para Gordon switched from endurance to sprint cycling. Source: Simon Burch 00353872754849 Ireland

“You definitely grow in confidence. I’ve always said if you don’t back yourself, how can you expect others to back you? You have to go up onto that start line with confidence. Everybody else is doing it. You’re in amongst the best, so why should you not be confident in your ability to deliver?”

That’s a very fair question. And ultimately leads to the big one.

All going to plan for Tokyo — qualification and Covid-wise — what’s the goal or dream there?

“Well, we all dream of medals, that’s why we all compete at this high level,” Gordon concludes. “But a Paralympic medal or Olympic medal or World Championship medal is very, very hard got.

“It’s always the dream, it’s always the ambition, but as I have always said, I’m not going over to Tokyo to make up numbers. We’re going over there to get amongst it, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t get in amongst it.

“I’m at that standard. Irish bikes have always been at that standard, and we’re no different.”

************

Irish para-cyclist, Martin Gordon, was speaking in support of Paralympics Ireland’s new fundraising campaign ‘The Next Level’.

The campaign aims to raise vital funds for para-athletes in Ireland and help to support Team Ireland’s journey to Tokyo 2021 and beyond. The campaign has raised over €70,000 to date. You can get behind the team now at: https://paralympics.ie

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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