Mia Griffin from Glenmore leads the charge
There have been ups and downs, and after one particularly bad experience a stay in a Homeless Shelter helped focus the mind, but determined Kilkenny lady Mia Griffin is absolutely sure she is where she wants to be in life, writes John Knox.
Last week she was part of a history making Irish team that rewrote the records when posting a new best time for the national squad at the women's Team Pursuit World Track Championships in Pruszkow, Poland (4 kms).
Mia, a former camogie star who found track bike racing by chance, knows there are no easy options in the punishing world she inhabits, but she is thrilled with the trajectory of her career to date.
“Things are looking up, they are looking good,” she insisted with enthusiasm in her voice when we spoke after the polished performance in Poland.
The four person team clocked a time of 4.29.14 minutes to knock more than two and a half seconds off the existing Irish record (4.31.4) that stood since 2015.
The Irish team went into the championships as rank outsiders, placed 17th in the world. After their gut-busting effort they finished 10th, outshining nations such as Korea, Japan and Ukraine who would have a long tradition in the sport.
“Because of our ranking it meant we were the first team off, the first event on the first day of the World championship,” Mia explained. “To improve by 2.5 seconds is a considerable margin at this level.
“The Irish pursuit team before us had been together a good bit longer than this group,” she added, explaining that she and her colleagues were really only racing less than 12 months.
Last week’s striking performance has now brought the Olympic Games and Tokyo 2020 on to the radar.
But to get the qualifying ticket they have to make the top eight in the world.
“From where we have come from 17th to the top 10 at the World Championship would suggest there is hope,” insisted the former Glenmore championship winning captain.
“The Olympics are not another world away now. This result would suggest nothing is impossible. Also, success breeds success. We have been in a training environment with some of the best people in the world.
“Because we have been in that environment it has enabled us to knock seconds off each time we come back to competition.”
Less than a year ago they were clocking around 4.36.00 when racing. The times have been on the slide generally since; Berlin a 4.33.00; a 4.31.00 in London. Then a 4.32.00 in Hong Kong.
And then the Worlds Championships - a 4.29.1
Cheerleaders have been short on the ground for the closely knit group that often dig into their own pockets to make ends meet. Their coach Brian Nugent, Technical Director for Cycling Ireland, had been one of the few real believers.
“I think everyone else doubted we could surpass the last team and be competitive on the world stage,” Mia offered. “Brian has huge faith in us. He has put everything into us and into the team. It is beginning to pay off.”
Irish cycling in general got a huge lift during the last week when Lydia Boylan won a silver medal at the World Championships and then Mark Downey claimed a bronze.
So, how did Mia feel after being part of the record setting team?
“Basically the feeling then was great,” she said when recalling the moment the time flashed up on the clock. “But once that initial emotion subsides you instantly start looking at areas you can improve your performance.
“It gives you a tiny jab of satisfaction, but it doesn’t last. As soon as that good feeling went away you want to move on to the next thing.”
The next big thing for Mia will be a six day track event in Manchester in three weeks time. Basically this is a track racing extravaganza, with party goers inside the track watching the races for entertainment.
Mia will be racing during three of the days, and after that her thoughts will turn to the under-23 European championships, where she is hoping to get a good result.
The high is very high right now, she admitted, but she recalled some darker days. The group experienced “some terrible days,” as she described them, at the start of this whole adventure.
There was one occasion when things looked to be falling apart and even the coach was close to despair. The girls simply “blew to bits” during a training stint, and their future as a team looked bleak.
The girls took control. They paid their way to get to Glasgow for a World Cup race so they could put a time on the board to get up and running again. They stayed in a Homeless Shelter, five of them packed into the one room.
“We knew we had potential as a team,” Mia recalled with fun in her voice. “The Glasgow stay helped us get over the disappointment. We regrouped and got back up.
“We scraped a good race effort the next time, but we were under huge pressure in Berlin (the day they clocked 4.33.00). We pulled out something decent. That ripped the plaster off, really. We were ready to go again.”
Mia got involved in the Team Pursuit project after answering an advertisement in which Cycling Ireland were looking for girls to transition from other sports to bike racing. She was due to move into Third Level education, but she put her studies on hold and now she is more or less a full time athlete.
“It is hard, but there is an element of a dream about it all,” she said with disarming honesty. “This is absolutely everything I want to do.
“Before the start of the race at the World Championships I was sitting in the chairs before you get up on the start line. All I was thinking was that there was actually no place I would rather be right now, even with the nerves and everything.
“It was where I wanted to be. It is what I want to do. I just don't want to think of what life would be without this.”
Mia is daughter of P.J. and Maria Griffin from Kilmakevoge, Glenmore. She has two sisters, Isobel and Danielle and brothers, Killian and Oisin.
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