Aileen Reid was highly tipped to do well at London 2012 but after a crash on her bike she finished 43rd. Gavin Hyland talks with the Olympic triathlete to find out how she rebounded from the disappointment of 2012.
Having a disappointing Olympics would be enough to destroy anybody’s confidence but that is not how Aileen Reid reacted to her 43rd place finish at the London Olympics in 2012.
“I had a disappointing swim and I had to rush the cycle and that led to the crash on the bike. I was proud I finished but it was not the day my Olympic dream was supposed to be,” explains Reid.
It’s 5pm in Australia where Reid has been living for the last year and she tells me she is looking at the stadium where the Commonwealth Games will be held. Reid intended on competing at the games but injury has forced her to retire as a triathlon athlete.
It is a far colder 8am in Dublin when we are speaking and the former Irish Olympian tells me the weather is one of the reasons she moved to Australia.
“People are out at 5am doing all sorts of exercise from running to surfing. It’s not just sporty people, everybody does it. The sun is out,” the Derry native laughs at the last part as it’s a very chilly October morning in Dublin and she can’t help being giddy with the difference in weather.
“Every Thursday afternoon kids do sports and they are not forced, they genuinely want to be active,” said Reid.
Before she gets too carried away with her new life in Australia, I pull her back to her time as an Olympian. After the disappointment of 2012, Reid continued to train and was back representing Ireland at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Reid lists off places she visited for training camps in preparation for Rio. “We went to Kenya for a training camp and then we had a heat preparation camp in Florida. I had a much better experience in Rio even though I didn’t break top 10 or anything like that.”
As she casually mentions the pleasures of cycling through the Japanese countryside or swimming in the Mediterranean, I ask if she ever got to enjoy seeing those places.
“I probably didn’t enjoy it enough. I missed out on a lot of experiences and I didn’t always enjoy the experiences,” confesses Reid.
She would encourage young athletes to remember to enjoy the experience and the events athletics affords them.
Reid prepared well before competing by attending training camps, including heat preparation and altitude training. “Athletes train for the type of conditions they are going to compete in. That is why we had a training camp in Florida right before Rio.”
The future of Irish athletics
The former Olympian tells a familiar story when asked about the situation in Irish athletics. There are talented athletes in the country but funding is lacking.
“We have the athletes and we have the coaches but we sometimes don’t have the investment,” said Reid.
A sense of frustration creeps into the Olympian’s voice. “Volunteer coaches are expected to produce high performing athletes while these other guys were sitting in their high chairs.” It is unclear who these “other guys” are. Financial issues in the Irish Olympics set-up are not new, the boxing squad famously had financial trouble and the Pat Hickey controversy emerged during Rio 2016.
Reid, a former PE teacher, is now coaching children in a private school in Australia and she believes that triathlon is a good example of a gender balanced sport.
“Lots of schools have training camps and there is equal pay and prize money throughout the sport.” When speaking about gender inequality in other sports, Reid doesn’t have much time for excuses. “There’s no reason in this day and age why women shouldn’t have the same access to changing rooms and equal prize money,” argues Reid.
Things seem to be far easier for the two time Olympian since she moved to Australia. “If I wanted to go swimming in Ireland I would have to put on my layers, my boots and in December, I would have spent 10 minutes scraping the ice off the car and that’s all before I even get to the pool. Here I go down in my shorts and t-shirt with nothing more than a towel and I can swim for as long as I want,” gloated Reid.