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The Cork teenager heading to the Olympic Games after Leaving Cert year

‘It’s an honour just to get to represent our area, the hometown, and make everyone proud, really,’ says Meg Ryan. ‘Hopefully, anyway.’

Megan Ryan at the 2021 European Gymnastics Championships.
Megan Ryan at the 2021 European Gymnastics Championships.
Image: Claudio Thoma/INPHO

FROM THE LEAVING Cert to the Olympic Games, the summer of 2021 is one Meg Ryan will never forget.

In normal, non-Covid years, Sixth Year students would head for Santa Ponsa, Magaluf, Kavos, and the likes for their Leaving Cert holidays, but Ryan’s destination is Tokyo, Japan.

The biggest stage in world sport.

The 19-year-old Cork star was confirmed as Ireland’s second-ever female gymnastics representative to qualify for an Olympics on Friday. She got the word herself last Monday, having been in limbo through the qualification process for quite some time.

But Ryan kept her head down and trained for the Women’s All-Around through the uncertainty and distractions. Her simple quote as her seat on the plane was confirmed said it all:

I’m delighted. It was a long wait for me but it feels amazing to finally get the confirmation. I’ve worked really hard so I can’t wait to get out there now!

Worked hard is an understatement, the former Christ King Girls’ Secondary School, Douglas, student walking a tightrope and mastering the balancing act of sport and studies over the past few years.

“It kind of worked both ways,” she told the media yesterday. “I knew obviously going in that it was going to be a tough year.

“And that was kind of my main concern, even when I heard the news that the Olympics was not going to go ahead in 2020, that it was being delayed until 2021 because I knew I’d be doing my Leaving Cert that year, so it wasn’t ideal at the time. I obviously had just done Fifth Year, and I think that kind of gave me a good example of what Sixth Year would be like, because Fifth Year wasn’t very easy either.

“Sixth Year was obviously a whole new level then again, with all the exams and stuff. We had constant exams throughout the year just incase anything happened [with regards Covid-19], and the Leaving Cert wasn’t going ahead.

“It was quite difficult to balance and I think there would be times where, you know, I’d kind of get into that mindset of like, ‘I’m doing too much study and it’s taking from my training,’ or, ‘I’m doing too much training and it’s taking from my study’.

“But I had to kind of put one aside when I was doing the other, and then focus on the other one. It was kind of like a balancing act. It wasn’t easy, but I got through it. I’m delighted now just to be done that and to be able to focus on my training.”

Ryan reserves plenty of praise for how supportive her principal and teachers were through the year, knowing how important her gymnastics were. Their messages and the school’s tweets were among a litany of well wishes over the past few days.

With Pharmacy first on her CAO form, that’s to the back of her mind now as more immediate matters take over.

Hailing from a big GAA family, the Olympic dream isn’t exactly one Ryan had from a young age. But it’s one she certainly grew to envisage.

“When I was starting off, I would have been quite young, I would have been like four or five, so I don’t actually remember ever thinking about the Olympic games at all starting off,” she explains.

“I suppose I didn’t really know what they were until maybe 2012. I think I remember watching the 2012 Olympics, but I don’t think it ever clicked that that’s what I would be training for anything or like.

“I never had, from like a small child, that desire to go to the Olympics. I didn’t think that that was what I would be doing maybe until I started into going to more competitions. I was selected for the Gymnastics Ireland national squad and the Olympic start squad, which was a huge turnaround then. Even just the name, the Olympic start squad, it became a bit more real then, just going through that pathway.

megan-ryan Ryan is one to watch in Tokyo. Source: Claudio Thoma/INPHO

“It kind of just set goals for me. As it went on, it became more of a plan then. But when I was a small child growing up, it wasn’t a huge thing in my mind, I was just more enjoying the sport and loving what I was doing really.

“I loved gymnastics, I loved what I was doing. I just went in everyday and I had fun. As I got better and better, it became more of a deal then. But I think it was always important that I was enjoying what I was doing more than anything else.”

And now, here she is, an Olympian.

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Herself and Rochestown rower, Margaret Cremen — a friend of her older sister’s — will be flying the local flag in Japan, as they follow in the footsteps of Douglas’ Rob Heffernan in gracing the biggest stage in world sport.

There is that extra pride in representing the locality, the place she was born and raised, and stayed to train, rather than spread her wings to do so elsewhere.

It’s a real hometown story, and one worth following over the coming weeks.

“That’s actually a really nice feeling,” Ryan smiles. “It’s something that I didn’t really think of initially, but even on Friday and Saturday when the news officially came out, all my close friends and family, people I’ve known and people I haven’t talked to in ages have been getting on and saying congratulations.

“People would say, ‘Oh, my God, just to even know someone from our area is an Olympian.’ That’s when it kind of hit me that there wouldn’t be many people… I live in kind of the world of sport so I know lots of people who would be going to the Olympics. They’re not necessarily from my area, but just people in general.

“So I’d have heard of it before, people going and being selected. I’d be delighted for them, but I suppose, within the area, you wouldn’t really hear of it that much. It’s an honour just to get to represent our area, the hometown, and make everyone proud, really…

“Hopefully, anyway.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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