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Olympic dreams: Behan has done it the hard way

The gymnast qualified for London 2012 yesterday but it’s been far from plain sailing.

Behan posing for the media after learning that he had qualified yesterday.
Behan posing for the media after learning that he had qualified yesterday.
Image: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire/Press Association Images

IRELAND’S LATEST OLYMPIC success story Kieran Behan knows all too well the meaning of the word ‘setback’.

At the London Prepares test event yesterday, the 22-year-old gymnast who competes in the all-round event of floor, rings, pummel horse, vault, parallel bars and high bar, discovered that he had done enough to make the cut for July’s Games.

It is a staggering feat for the Surrey-based athlete as he will follow Barry McDonald’s wild card entry in Atlanta 1996 to become the second person to ever represent Ireland in gymnastics.

Speaking on Newstalk’s Off The Ball last night, Behan was clearly still in shock. “Everything’s still a bit surreal,” he said.

“I was in my coach’s room and we got a phone call which explained I’d qualified so we were jumping around in tears.

It’s a dream come true after all the stuff that I’ve gone through and the perseverance I’ve had to show.”

In order to understand that inner strength he alludes to, it is essential to hear a bit about Behan’s background.

Since the age of 10, the London-born athlete has been plagued by what he plays down as “a bad run” of injuries, but in reality, were a series of incidents which make the fact that he is even walking today seem miraculous.

An operation to remove a benign tumour in his left thigh left him wheelchair-bound as a child after nerves in his leg were damaged during the procedure.

Freak accident

Despite recovering enough to return to the sport he loves, Behan suffered brain damage just two years later from a freak accident on the high bar.

“Whenever I moved my head I couldn’t tell whether I was going left or right or upside and I would keep blacking out,” said Behan.

Nine weeks in hospital saw no improvement in his state so his parents, who are from Dublin and Monaghan, decided to discharge him.

I ended up back in a wheelchair and had to learn everything from scratch again,” he added.

He then spent the best part of three years attempting to regain the quality of life he had known but struggled with simple tasks like sitting up in bed and keeping his balance.

After a massive amount of rehabilitation, a comeback in competitive gymnastics was halted by two ruptured cruciate ligaments but after what he’d already been through, that was never going to stop him.

2011 brought three World Cup medals and a title as the overall World Series Floor champion. And now he’s looking forward to the prospect of being the first Irish gymnast to compete at the Olympics in 16 years.

“We’ll go there and see what happens – It will be brilliant to go out and do Ireland proud.”

Listen to the full OTB interview on Newstalk

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Ben Blake

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