Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Athletics keeps on running in talented Kirk family

Kirk session: Katie Kirk goes through her paces during training ahead of tomorrow's Northern Ireland Championships
Katie Kirk with the Olympic torch

It's impossible to escape athletics in the Kirk household. On the bathroom wall there is a picture of British middle distance greats Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram from the 1984 Olympic Games.

All three have signed it.

Katie Kirk tells me it is one of her dad's prized possessions.

Dad and coach is Mark Kirk, a fine athlete himself who competed for Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh 1986 and Auckland 1990. In Glasgow next month daughter Katie will emulate that feat by representing her country at the Games for a second time.

Katie was part of Northern Ireland's 4 x 400m relay team in Delhi four years ago. In 2014 she will run the 800m, just like her proud dad did all those years ago. It's in the blood.

Katie was only 16 in India.

"Delhi was an unbelievable, invaluable experience. I learnt a lot out there," says the bright young lady from Holywood.

"I also did a lot of fun things four years ago, such as going to the opening ceremony. This time it will be all about the sport.

"The women's 800m this year will have one of the strongest fields at the Commonwealth Games. If I manage to sneak into the final that would be fantastic, but right now my main aim is to go there and run really well and see where that takes me."

Kirk, renowned for her fast finish, ran the qualifying time for Glasgow in Watford in May. She crossed the line with a new personal best of 2:02:97, some 0.53 seconds faster than the consideration standard.

That was both a delight and relief, coming before her first year exams at Queen's University. She is studying Food Quality, Safety and Nutrition.

"It is hard to strike a balance between my studies and athletics," the 20-year-old admits.

"I don't really have what some people term a proper 'University life' because I live at home, I don't party and I am doing an intense course which sees me working from 9am to 6pm on some days and then going training afterwards.

"It was great to run the qualifying time when I did. I was very pleased and relieved. I knew I had it in me."

With school out for summer, Katie has a busy schedule on the track starting with tomorrow's Northern Ireland Athletics Championships in Belfast, where she will run the 400m against her friend Christine McMahon, an accomplished 400m hurdler.

A host of other top local athletes are lined up to compete at the Mary Peters Track including Paralympic sprint king Jason Smyth, high hurdler Ben Reynolds and pole vaulter Zoe Brown. All hope to be Glasgow-bound and in Northern Ireland's athletics squad announced next week. The Kirk clan will be out in force at Hampden Park, where the track and field will take place, to cheer on their girl with mum, dad, brother and Katie's boyfriend renting a house in Scotland. Her training partners are also making the journey. The former Sullivan Upper pupil says: "It'll be brilliant to have that support and also to feel the love from Glasgow, which I think is a great city. It should be a fantastic Games." You may recall that this talented runner, who suffered glandular fever last year, was in the spotlight for an even bigger event in 2012.

Along with six other young athletes, she shared an iconic sporting moment, lighting the Olympic cauldron to mark the start of the London Games.

Olympic Ambassador Dame Mary Peters had nominated the then 18-year-old Katie for the honour, passing her a torch, during the memorable opening ceremony, in a symbolic gesture as part of the "inspire a generation" motto.

"It's quite surreal thinking about it now. It still doesn't feel like it was me. People say to me about feeling pressured into one day running at the Olympics for real, but the way I look at the experience is that I feel honoured to have been considered. To be there with Mary Peters, one of my heroes, was amazing," says Katie. "Mary has helped me a great deal over the years and I've just read her autobiography which I feel I can relate to.

"The London 2012 experience did inspire me and it has made me determined to race in an Olympics in the future. Of course I would love to make it to Rio 2016, but right now my focus is on achieving all that I can this year."

No strained relations between coach and runner

Dad Mark (coach) on daughter Katie (athlete): Katie has had a lot of problems in the last couple of years with injury and glandular fever, but this year training has gone well. She is working really hard and deserves the times she has been running recently, including the Commonwealth Games qualification time.

Katie was only 16 in Delhi at her first Commonwealth Games in 2010 but coped very well. That was a good experience for her and I've told Katie she will learn a great deal from Glasgow too. Hopefully it will be a stepping stone for bigger and better things to come.

Katie is a great girl. I have never had any bother with her as a parent or as a coach. We couldn't ask for a better daughter. She works hard, studies hard and behaves well.

Once in a blue moon she will get grumpy if she hasn't raced as well as she thought she should have done, but certainly being her coach or her dad is not difficult at all.

Daughter Katie (athlete) on dad Mark (coach): I have had my moments as a grumpy teenager with dad and we didn't always agree, but we are on same page now which is great.

I challenge my dad about the training that we do. I guess other athletes just go along with whatever their coach says, but I am comfortable enough with dad to ask him why we are doing this or that.

I also know that my dad has my best interests at heart and that he will always look after me.

Five to watch this weeked:

Name: Zoe Brown

Age: 30

Club: Shaftesbury Barnet/Raheny Shamrocks

Event: Pole Vault

Zoe broke her own Northern Ireland record in Cardiff last weekend when she cleared 4.32 metres to take the Welsh title. This vault is currently ranked third on both the UK and Commonwealth lists. Her previous best of 4.31 metres, an Irish native record, won Zoe the Irish Indoors in February. She is holder of four Irish titles and has represented Northern Ireland in three previous Commonwealth Games — in swimming in 1998 and in the pole vault in 2002 (seventh) and 2006 (12th).

Name: Ben Reynolds

Age: 23

Club: Windsor and Bath/North Down

Event: 110m hurdles

Reynolds broke his own Northern Ireland record at the Mary Peters track last June with a time of 13.49 secs, which would currently rank him eighth in the Commonwealth. He ran 13.79 at Loughborough last month, placing him sixth in the UK. He followed that with a run of 13.63 secs in Dublin, with a wind reading only .01 metres per second over the limit. He was a semi-finalist in World Indoors Championships in Istanbul in March 2012 and has an indoor PB of 7.74 secs.

Name: Amy Foster

Age: 25

Club: Lisburn Athletic Club

Event: 100 metres

A student at the University of Ulster, Amy lives in Newtownards. She is the Northern Ireland 100 metres record holder, with a time of 10.40 secs, set in Florida a month ago. That also equalled the Irish record now jointly held with Ailish McSweeney. Previously she equalled the old record of 11.49 secs in July 2011, which had been held by Anna Boyle since 2006. A holder of four Irish titles, the most recent being the 60 metres Irish Indoors title in February. Amy was also a finalist over 200 metres in the World University Games in China in August 2011 (PB of 23.53 secs). She competed in the 100 and 200 metres at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and represented Ireland in 2012 European Championships.

Name: Jason Harvey

Age: 23

Club: Liverpool AC/Crusaders

Event: 400m hurdles

Set a PB of 50.13 secs when finishing second in Irish Championships last July. He recorded this season's best time of 51.13 at a meeting in Belgium last weekend. Jason is also a former English Open Under 17 high jump champion, with a leap of 2.04 metres.

Name: Christine McMahon

Age: 21

Club: Ballymena and Antrim

Event: 400m hurdles

A student at Queen’s, within the last month she has set a 400 metres hurdles PB of 57.63 secs at Loughborough and was second in British Universities. The current Irish Universities and Irish under-23 Indoor champion, she has a 400 metres PB of 54.77 secs. Christine competed in World Junior Championships in 2010 and represented Northern Ireland in 2010 Commonwealth Games with Katie Kirk in 4x400m relay, where they finished fifth in heat in 3 mins 40.92 secs (0.70 secs outside the Northern Ireland record.)

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