Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Olympic athlete Joanna Mills takes stock

Olympic storm athlete sits out running to focus on dentistry

By Steven Beacom

The Northern Ireland athlete at the centre of a 2012 Olympic Games controversy has decided to take time out from the sport.

Joanna Mills, the 21-year-old 400m specialist, has suffered an unfortunate run of injury problems leading her to make a big call about her career - opting to have a break from athletics to give her body the chance to make a full recovery.

She revealed in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph that another factor behind her decision was a desire to focus on the final two years of her dentistry studies.

Mills won't be completely inactive in sporting terms though because she's now getting her teeth into playing hockey for Ballyclare Ladies, alongside her elder sister Rebecca.

Two and a half years ago Mills, then 19, was on the front and back pages of this newspaper and on television news programmes when she wasn't selected for the Irish Olympic 4 x 400m relay squad despite having a faster time than southern counterpart Catriona Cuddihy, who was included in the six woman panel.

Mills appealed her exclusion to an Athletics Ireland Appeal Panel and won her case.

Cuddihy then appealed against that decision to the Olympic Council of Ireland with a controversial judgement going in her favour.

The Mills camp received legal advice that there were strong grounds on which to lodge an appeal against that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which had convened in London for the Olympics, but by that stage Joanna had had enough, electing not to proceed any further.

"That was a strange time. I learned a lot from it," recalled Queen's University dental student Mills, a former Northern Ireland 400m champion.

"The experience didn't have a negative impact on me. Instead it gave me a taste of what high profile sport was like.

"It also gave me hunger and motivation to train hard and try to become the best athlete that I could be."

After the issues with the Ireland team, Mills applied to UK Athletics to be considered for GB representation in future international team competitions.

A series of injuries were to hold the promising athlete back, however, eventually leading to her decision to take a break.

"I had a stress fracture in my foot which was very complicated to manage. I had it that summer of 2012, but it wasn't diagnosed until 2013 and I was out for six months with it," she explained.

"I started training with my new coach Paul McKee, but unfortunately my injury was problematic leading to more time out before I came back for some indoor races only for the injury to flare up again.

"Then earlier this year I pulled my hamstring in July. It was one thing after another. Once I started to train after getting over that I had problems with my hip.

"It became very frustrating not being able to compete or train in a sport I love at the level I wanted and with my injuries in mind and the fact that I am having a really busy year with my studies, I decided to give my body a break to give it time to recover.

"I'm studying dentistry and am in my fourth year of five and am focusing on that. My coach Paul has been really supportive about it all. He has been brilliant.

"I haven't put a time limit on when I'll return to athletics because I don't want to put myself under pressure.

"In an ideal world with my body fit and well I'll come back," she added.

For now though articulate Joanna is savouring another sport.

She said: "I'm playing for Ballyclare Ladies Hockey team in Senior One. I want to keep fit and hockey gives me a chance to do that. It is low intensity compared to the six days a week training in athletics.

"I've played a few matches on the left wing. My sister Rebecca also plays. It's great to be out on the pitch with her and the team enjoying sport."

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