It’s not often that I have the opportunity to interview an 18 year old. But the case of this Donegal Town athlete is an exception.
And it doesn’t surprise me, as it’s in his genes. His dad Eamonn, in his day a noted athlete on the provincial circuit, accompanies his son on his European exploits.
Like all young lads up to their early teens, soccer was his sport, switching to the world of athletics when he was 14 years old. Karl Griffin has been breaking National records since.
In his first year competing at U-15, he won the 800metres at the Celtic Games in August 2009. He broke the Irish Indoor/Outdoor (U16/17) 800 metre records in 2010 and 2011 respectively which still holds to this day.
In 2011 he ran 1:50.94 seconds in the 800 metres, the fastest (U17) performance right across Europe that year. In the same year he again astounded at the European Youth (U18) Olympic Festival in Turkey when he took bronze in the 800 metres.
During this interview I watched a televised clip of that final, Karl was outpaced to the back of the group for the first lap, displaying a sudden burst coming up to the final straight, the young Donegal runner literally swept aside his older competitors.
Last year he ran an incredible 1 minute 49.63 secs in the 800 metres to set a new Irish Youth(U-18) record. He represented Ireland in the 800m at the World Junior (U-20) Athletics Championships in Barcelona last year. This year he represented Ireland in the European Junior(U-20) Athletics Championships in Rieti, Italy.
On the academic side, this year’s results of 565 points in his Leaving Cert would have secured college entry to any of the major professional degrees. But Karl is so focussed on his running he has decided on a four year Chemical Science degree at UCD, with the stipulation that special deadlines be made to accommodate his rigorous training schedule under former Olympian, now Athletic coach James Nolan.
In saying that he paid tribute to his former coach in Donegal, the well respected Eamon Harvey. Following rigorous interviews, athletic achievements, coupled with Leaving Cert results Karl was one of only two athletes in the country to be awarded a scholarship into the prestigious Ad Astra Elite Athlete Academy in University College Dublin where he started his first year last Monday.
Karl said: “Apart from my studies at UCD, my main concentration is to make the 1min 48.20ecs qualifying times for the World Junior (U-20) Athletics Championships in Oregon USA in July 2014. I also have to gain the A standard qualification of 1min 45.20 secs over the next three seasons to qualify in order to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“UCD’s Ad Astra Academy will involve a completely different type of training and preparation from what I was used to. In this academy, apart from the training sessions, a complete medical team from doctor, dietitian, nutritionist, etc., have been assigned to specifically deal with the 20 or so athletes on this course. There is a downside to this, as during holiday periods I shall not be able to take up a full-time job due to my daily training schedule. I appreciate that we live in a time of severe austerity, and the likelihood of sponsorship for me is limited”.
Karl is one of our country’s upcoming young athletes who must be nurtured and assisted to release his full potential. It will be a terrible pity and I hope not, if he were to follow the path of many of our past noted athletes who were to ‘fall at the last hurdle’ for lack of funding. Karl has begun his college life and straight into a full week’s training at the UCD facility.
In the next weeks the Irish Sports Council plans cuts to its annual sports budget. Some of the finest athletes in the world are Irish. They have the ability, the hunger, but sadly not the facilities or the full financial backing of their country. The track and field athlete’s training schedule ‘ploughs a long lonely furrow’ not able to enjoy the same camaraderie and rewards as ballsport teams. It is consistent and they must be at the top of their athletic form to compete on the world’s stage. But this lonely journey and hard work can end with one of the greatest sporting victories our nation can produce. Cork man Rob Heffernan’s gold medal in the 50km walk at the recent World Championships in Moscow certainly proved what can be achieved with the financial backing of his country and of course dedicated training and the right mindset.
Karl Griffin knows this. He possesses a unique talent, he has the hunger, he has the mindset, he is focussed and our Sports Council are hopefully well aware of this.