WITH less than a week to go to the 69th Cork City Sports, a most appropriate recipient of the Athlete of the Month award for May is Louise Shanahan from the Leevale club.
At the Irish Milers Club meeting in Belfast on the 14th of the month, Louise not only broke the magical two-minute barrier for 800m for the first time but she also defeated the current Irish record holder, Ciara Mageean, to set a new Irish record of 1:59.42.
This major breakthrough also qualified her for both the World Championships in Eugene and the European Championships in Munich later in the summer.
Speaking at the function in the River Lee hotel, the 25-year-old admitted the Cork City Sports is an event very close to her heart.
“I don’t remember it, but my Mum tells me plenty of stories of me being in a carry-cot while she was typing up the results in a trailer.
"The first time I ran there would have been in the schools relay and from there I went on to being a basket girl with Leevale to winning the junior 800m.”
Now studying at Cambridge University, her performance in Belfast where she beat Mageean’s previous best of 1:59.69 also went into the history books as the first time that two Irish women have gone under two minutes in the same race.
Shanahan raced tactically from the gun, staying in touching distance of Mageean before unleashing her final challenge down the home straight. Mageean fought back and ultimately crossed the line a fraction behind in a fine season opener of 1:59:86.
“I went to Belfast and I really didn’t think I had a performance like that in me, especially so early in the season,” said Shanahan.
“So to break the two-minute barrier and come away with the national record as well as the qualification standard made for an ideal start to the season.
"My main aim for the year had been the World University Games but for the second year in a row they got postponed.
"So to be honest, I thought the World Championships this year were a step too far.”
This was the second occasion for Shanahan to receive the monthly Cork City Sports Award.
Back in 2013, as a 16-year-old, she was honoured for her performance in winning the European Youths 800m.
However, a year later shortly after completing her Leaving Certificate she suffered a serious injury which ruled her out of the European Juniors, an event she had already qualified for.
It took her a couple of years to get back to the standard she was at but after a period in America at Berkeley University under coach Tony Sandoval, she moved to Cambridge where she is studying for a Ph.D. in Quantum physics.
“I’m coached there by Phil O’Dell; he’s the Cambridge University Hare & Hounds cross-country coach.
"He coaches several athletes up to the marathon distance so it works really well because it means there’s always plenty of people to train with, and I really enjoy it there.”
The talent has always been evident from her schools days, and it runs in the family.
Louise’s father, Ray, was one of the country’s leading middle-distance runners back in the late 1980s with two Irish indoor 1500m titles to his credit along with an 800m outdoor best of 1:48.40 from 1986.
During his competitive days, Ray also served as chairman of the Cork City Sports and played a major role in the continuation of the event at a time when its demise was all too evident.
“Yes, the Cork City Sports is really important to our family,” admits Louise, who was accompanied at the function by her father Ray and mother Liz.
No doubt, she will be one of the main attractions at this year’s meet when she lines up in the Cork City Council-sponsored 800m scheduled for 7.40pm on Tuesday evening.
She will also need all the local support behind up as the elite field now includes Christina Hering of Germany who has a similar best time of 1:59.41 for the distance.
“I’m really excited to be competing and it’s amazing on a home track to have such incredible athletes there,” says the new Irish record holder.
“It’s such a great opportunity to have such world-class athletics in our own city and we’d really appreciate all the support we can get on July 5.”
The Cork City Sports Athletics Person of the Month Award is sponsored by the River Lee, 96&C103FM, The Echo, Cork Crystal and Leisureworld.