Lisa Kearney will return to Belfast next week to spend a few days with her family before stepping up her preparations for London 2012 after yesterday becoming the first ever Irish woman to qualify for Olympic judo.
Kearney’s performance at an Olympic qualifier — the European Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia — guaranteed her a place at the Games this summer.
While the 22-year-old lost in the second round to Olympic champion Alina Dumitru, her two main rivals were both defeated, ending their opportunity to overtake Kearney in the rankings.
Kearney has taken part in a gruelling two-year qualification process, during which she has battled several injuries.
“It’s been an emotional and amazing two years,” Kearney said.
“It has been a long qualification process and I can’t quite believe it is over. It’s the end of a chapter in my life and I’m ready now for even bigger and better things.
“I am really delighted that I have qualified a place for Ireland at the London 2012 Olympics.
“I am really looking forward to competing.
“I think it will only sink in early next week when I get official confirmation.”
Kearney (pictured) continued: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ciaran Ward who has coached me for 14 years and I wouldn’t be here without him.
“I would also like to thank my wider support team of the Irish Sports Council, Sport Northern Ireland, Sports Institute Northern Ireland, the Irish Judo Association, the Irish Institute of Sport and also the Olympic Council of Ireland.”
Irish Judo Association president Francis Treanor paid tribute to Kearney’s achievement.
“The Board of the Irish Judo Association would like to congratulate Lisa Kearney on her outstanding performances over the last two years to earn a qualifying place in the London 2012 Olympic games,” he said.
“Following a long and tough qualification process, Lisa and her coach Ciaran Ward have been duly rewarded with an Olympic place this summer.
“The Board and members of the Irish Judo Association have been wholly supportive of Lisa's campaign and are delighted that such a wonderful ambassador for the sport of judo has achieved her Olympic dream.
“The Association would like extend their best wishes to Lisa's parents and family who have been an immense support to Lisa. The Board would also like to thank the Irish Sports Council, the Olympic Council of Ireland, Sport Northern Ireland, the Irish Institute of Sport and the Sports Institute Northern Ireland for the continuous support received over the last two years.
“We wish Lisa the very best for London 2012 as she represents Ireland in Judo.”
Dr Shaun Ogle, Executive Director of the Sports Institute Northern Ireland which has been a key part of Lisa’s support network over the last six years, said: “Everyone at SINI is delighted for Lisa.
“She has put a huge amount of work into this two year Olympic campaign and this qualification has been years in the making.
“Lisa works incredibly hard, both on and off the mat, and she has demonstrated time and time again the dedication and skill needed to qualify for the Games.
“All the team at SINI would like to congratulate Lisa and her coach Ciaran Ward and wish them both every success in London 2012.”