Rising Newry heptathlete Kate O’Connor returns for her second Commonwealth Games with a podium position firmly in her sights writes Alec McQuarrie.
The Team Northern Ireland starlet was just 17 when she competed on the Gold Coast in 2018 and is determined to improve on her eighth-place finish there.
The 21-year-old has been raising the bar ever since returning from Australia, beating her own Irish record and edging towards Olympic qualifying standard with a score of 6297.
The Sheffield Hallam undergraduate was also the first Irish athlete to medal in a major heptathlon championship with a silver at the 2019 U20 Europeans in Sweden.
This summer, Team Northern Ireland, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will compromise over 100 athletes, and having secured her place on the squad, O’Connor is looking for medal success.
She said: “I had an amazing experience at the last Commonwealth Games in Australia. I was only 17, I’ve never been so nervous.
“I will never forget standing at the high jump and my hands were trembling, there was a heartbeat being played around the stadium.
“It was really intense, but I took so much away from that championship.
“I’m going to go into this championship more prepared than I was the last time and fingers crossed it will lead to a better outcome.
“I know all the top girls now in heptathlon. We’re saying hello, we know each other’s faces, which is nice.
“I’m hyper-competitive and I don’t just want to be someone that is at a competition making up the numbers – I want to be on podiums, I want to be winning.”
O’Connor became the first Irish athlete to break the 6,000 points barrier and was expected to qualify for Tokyo 2020 before an injury derailed her preparations.
She recalled: “The first time that I hit 6,000 points, that was the first moment for me where I was like ‘woah I can actually compete with these girls.’
“Last year, I scored almost a six-three, that was the real pinnacle for me. I was so close to the Olympics, I ended up getting injured.
“That was the moment where I was like, if I was well I would be at the Olympics this year. Whereas beforehand, I was always there but never fully there.
“Now I know that it’s there and year on year, if I just keep progressing I think I could potentially be one of the best in the world.
“I think that heptathlon is leaving a legacy and I would love to get my name down in the books and be a part of that.”
O’Connor, who is coached by her father Michael, has certainly come a long way since picking up athletics in primary school.
She said: “My parents realised pretty young that I was a bit of an all-rounder – it wasn’t the most normal thing to have an 800m runner at the All-Ireland champs whilst also throwing the javelin.
“I did loads of random events when I was young and I was good at them, and then coaches realised I could pick up things quite quickly and then slowly but surely picked up all the events in the heptathlon.”
And although javelin is O’Connor’s speciality, the heptathlon is well-suited to an athlete who is focused on fortifying her mentality.
“I love having different events to go to. If one event’s not going well, I have six others to try and pick up my spirits with.
“That’s something you have to learn with multi-events. You’ve got to be able to deal with the lows but you’ve also got to be able to deal with the highs.
“You can’t go from one event being absolutely buzzing and carrying that into the next event and rushing through things. Heptathlon is such a mental game not just physical.
“It takes years of practice and I still haven’t got it down but I’ve definitely got better from when I was younger. That’s one thing I love about heptathlon, there’s always things to learn.”
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