Northern Ireland 400 metres champion Joanna Mills has revealed the emotional trauma she experienced when watching the London Olympics on television.
The Ballymena and Antrim AC runner was prevented from competing because of a highly controversial selection decision by the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI).
Mills was not selected for the Irish 4x400m relay squad despite having a faster personal best and season’s best than southern counterpart Catriona Cuddihy who was picked in the six-strong panel.
Mills admitted that following this hammer blow she found it very upsetting to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony, particularly when the Irish team was featured.
Mills, speaking at a press conference to announce a personal sponsorship deal arranged by Northern Ireland Sport International, said: “It was very difficult watching the Games, especially since the coverage was always in your face.
“However, I was glad I trained through it as I had competitions to focus on and this settled me, particularly as I was at home.”
Cuddihy was originally named in the squad but an appeal by Mills was upheld by Athletics Ireland. The OCI tribunal found however that the initial selection of the Kilkenny athlete had been correct based on the full range of criteria.
Coach Ian Neely said that it had taken Mills about six weeks to fully overcome the mental and physical downside of what was a very unsavoury experience.
Mills confirmed that if she had to repeat her nightmare scenario she would stick to her decision not to appeal the OCI decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
She commented: “I had a lot of strong grounds on which I could have appealed. I should have been selected purely with regard to my times rather than relying on legal arguments. However, having been told twice that I wasn't selected for London I just didn't want to go through that process a third time.”
Mills was asked if she saw any parallels between her case and that of Northern Ireland's Wendy Houvenaghel who was not selected to race for the Great Britain cycling pursuit team.
Mills felt the Houvenaghel situation was even worse as, she believed, the cyclist had earned the chance to race.
She explained that while this did not necessarily apply in her own case — only four of the six selected actually raced — she had still been deprived of the opportunity of taking part in the entire Olympic experience, including living in the village as well as being part of an Olympic team.
Looking to the future, Mills said the whole scenario gave her added motivation to compete in the Rio Olympics in four years time.
“I am now a stronger person although I always have been motivated and my goals are still the same,” she said. “My confidence has not suffered and I will do everything I can to get to Rio.”
The QUB dental student refused to rule out switching to Team GB.
“There has been no decision on that at this time,” said the 19-year-old from Ballynure, Co Antrim.
“After the Inter Counties this weekend I will be taking a break for a few weeks to relax and plan my programme for next year with my coach. It is only then that I will take a decision as to what country I want to represent.”
Mills explained that next year would be very busy with the main events being the World Student Games and the European Under 23 Championships.
Coach Neely said the new sponsorship deal would enable his athlete to increase the number of warm weather training periods abroad as well as expanding the number of competitions in Europe to around six in the season.