Women in Sport: Aoife Cooke is coming to boil for the Olympics

Ballincollig runner has been picked for an Echo Women in Sport award after fulfilling a lifelong dream
Women in Sport: Aoife Cooke is coming to boil for the Olympics

34-year-old Corkonian Aoife Cooke who smashed the Tokyo Olympic marathon qualifying time and ran a new marathon best.

BALLINCOLLIG native Aoife Cooke qualified for the Tokyo Olympics after a sensational performance at the Cheshire Elite Marathon back in late April.

The marathon, which was run over a seven-and-a-half-lap flat course close to Chester, was specially organised for elite runners aiming to hit the Tokyo standard and that win saw her chosen as one of The Echo Women in Sport awards.

The Eagle AC runner convincingly beat the women's Olympic qualifying standard which is set at 2:29:30, by winning the race in a time of 2:28:36 In 2019, Aoife was crowned National Marathon Champion in Dublin, clocking an amazing time of 2:32:34.

She underlined her potential in that Dublin marathon with a 14-minute improvement on her previous best time.

Nothing but hard work since, it all worked out on that Sunday morning in Chesire, with Cooke delivering the performance of her life.

The run improved her own personal best by just over four minutes, and it makes the 34-year-old the second Irish woman to meet the marathon standard for Tokyo. Fionnuala McCormack ran 2:26.47 in the 2019 Chicago Marathon to qualify.

However, it took years of hard work to achieve the Olympic standard.

Aoife said: "I grew up watching the Olympics, grew up watching Sonia O’Sullivan. It is the pinnacle for every athlete to get to the Olympics. For me, it's a dream come true."

After taking up athletics at the age of 11, I think it's fair to say her athletics career has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Reflecting on her early days.

"I was living in Ballincollig at the time, so I joined the Ballincollig Athletic Club, my aunt Mary was coaching there so that kind of prompted me to join. I suppose at the start I wouldn't have been considered very talented, I would have been a good team player, but I loved it," said Cooke.

Fast-forward a couple of years, it was evident that Aoife had plenty of talent and impressive results were soon to follow. 

I think I was about 16 when I started winning medals, at Country and Munster level in the Cross Country, then it went from strength to strength."

US-BOUND

Soon after, Aoife was offered a scholarship at Arkansas Tech and the very young talented athlete was America bound. 

"I decided to go for it, and I went over. It was great, a great experience. It was mainly cross country the college focused on, there were races every few weeks, we would be off to the likes of Alabama, Florida, and places like that. 

"In my second year over, things really started to come around for me. I actually won the conference and regional championships, then I finished 9th in the National Championships, it was brilliant. 

"I did a lot of running that year, I would have come home at Christmas time to run in the Junior National Championships in Ireland and finished third which meant I made the Irish team for the upcoming European Cross-Country Championships. 

"Wearing that green jersey was probably one of the best experiences I ever had, but after that, I started getting a lot of injuries. The following spring, I got a stress fracture in my pelvis. It was injury after injury, so after a few months, I decided it was time to come home. 

"I started in UCC, ran a little bit for them but the injuries kept reoccurring. In the end, I had to take a complete break and took a few years out," added Cooke.

So, after a few years on the sidelines, Aoife decided to return to athletics, and I don't think she could have dreamt of the success and victories that were to follow.

Aoife Cooke on the move. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Aoife Cooke on the move. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Aoife has had so many big wins over the last few years but the one she got the most pleasure out of winning was the Ballycotton '10' in 2016. 

"I was absolutely delighted to win it; it was unexpected and a great surprise. To be honest, I was actually delighted just to run it. It's a special race, it was one of those races that everybody knows about, it's even all the more special now that it's gone."

Since winning that famous Ballycotton '10' in 2016 more top-class performances and big wins have followed. It was obvious to athletic followers that Cooke was on target to achieve Olympic qualification.

Cooke has achieved qualification with little help from the athletics authorities here.

Although she has been part of the marathon mission since running 2:46 in Amsterdam a few years ago, she has not been in line for Sport Ireland funding as she wasn’t a carded athlete. Hopefully, that will change after booking a ticket to Tokyo.

AIM HIGH

Over the last few weeks, Aoife has been training hard in Salt Lake City, Utah. Salt Lake City is a vibrant, tidy city sitting in the shadow of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains. Recently, a clubmate of Aoife's, Damian Kenneally set up a go fund page to help Aoife on her journey to the states for training and to help her with Tokyo. 

At the time of writing, the fund has raised over €14,000.

Her coach, John Starret aka, Coach Stazza, gave a recent update on the Go Fund Me page, he said: Gotta say that it's great weather over here, great indoor dining, great not wearing masks, great scenery and trails for running, great tarmac surfaces and bike tracks for running, and great people."

 Aoife Cooke.
Aoife Cooke.

Even though Aoife is eating the US out of supplies, she's going great. 

She's in the middle of the key part of her training: last weekend she did 22 miles with 18 miles @ about marathon effort. we're just working on making sure she's stronger and can finish like Alf Tupper over the final 6 miles: this is where we see the opportunity to move through the greatest Olympic field ever assembled. 

"She's the fittest she's ever been, she is great spirits."

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