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Niamh McCarthy: Gold Medallist 2018

Cork is known for many things but particularly for having sporting gods. Roy Keane,
Sonia O’Sulivan, Christy Ring and many more. In 2016 the O’Donovan brothers became
world-renowned during the Rio Olympics, but someone equally as quirky as the two
siblings is another Corkonian, Niamh McCarthy. The former UCC student also rose to
stardom in Rio during the Paralympic games but recently Niamh claimed gold in what is
to date her most successful achievement. Always up for a chat, Niamh sat down with me
last week to discuss her latest triumph. Click here

Niamh is a native of Carrigaline in the south of Cork and previously studied Biological and
Chemical Sciences at UCC for a year before putting it on hold. That was nearly five years ago
and a lot has changed for the now 24-year-old. Niamh has always known that she is was shorter
than others, as she describes to me, but never before had it ever dawned on her that there was
actually a reason for her small stature. It was only when someone who her family knew had
suggested that maybe Niamh should try and take up a Paralympic style sport that she actually
became aware of her dwarfism.

Ever since then Niamh’s life has been consumed by one sport in particular, discus. Competing
in the F41 classification, McCarthy has been winning medals over the past three years, with her
first being a bronze at the World Championships in Doha, 2015. Since then Niamh has gone
from strength to strength and her medal haul includes a silver at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
While she also secured a silver medal last year in London, Niamh was not very pleased with her
personal performance. There were a lot of distractions for the young woman in 2017 but all of
that seems to have been put behind her.

A new training structure amongst other things has propelled Niamh to the top of her powers and
in late August this year she won her first major championship by securing gold at the World
Para Athletic European Championships. In doing so McCarthy also broke the European record
for her classification with a throw of 31.76 metres and as a result has written herself into the
history books. “I felt quite nervous on the day of my event”, Niamh tells me. “I’m not usually that
nervous and I don’t know why I was, I think maybe it was me just putting pressure on myself to
do well more than anything,” she continues. Niamh had been in pretty good form heading into
the championships and she informs me that she had actually thrown a score of 32.67 in June of
this year at an event in France, but for some reason this was never made official.
Niamh has been playing catch-up with her main rival, a Tunisian named Raoua Tlili, who is the
current Paralympic champion. In 2016 the Irish athlete was nearly seven metres off Tlili but this
gap has now been cut to about two metres. While she still remains behind, Niamh is pleased to
see the progress that she has made. “Yeah I suppose it’s great that I’ve managed to close the
gap with her but at the same time open the gap behind me. I feel like I can concentrate on
competing for that gold medal now more seriously, where as I was previously fighting for silver
and bronze,” Niamh explains.

The Paralympian has settled into a more practical training routine which now sees her only
having to travel to Dublin for every second training session. Niamh also trains in the Mardyke on
Monday nights with her strength and conditioning coach, alongside some other familiar names
like boxer Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan and former Cork City captain, Johnny Dunleavy. Having
grown up with very little interest in sport, Niamh suddenly finds herself engrossed with it. She
also believes that it’s really important for others to try and take up some sort of activity or
exercise, particularly students. “I think everybody gets something different out of sport but for
me I suppose I love knowing what exactly I’m doing for the week so it gets you out. I know
people who get up, go to work, come home, watch TV and just go to bed, it’s all work orientated.
I think people in college should really try and join clubs and societies. If I was still involved with
UCC I would definitely be pushing people to take up a sport just so that they can keep relatively
fit mentally and physically because students can lose the run of themselves a bit from time to
time. I really don’t think there’s an age limit to these things because I was 18 or 19 before I even
started throwing and look at me now.”

As an international athlete who has performed at the highest level, getting an insight into the
routine of a gold medallist is a special thing. When asked about the motions that she goes
through on the day of an event and whether she has any superstitions Niamh replies, “well to
answer the last question first, yes I do have superstitions,” she laughs. “I wear the same pair of
socks for every competition. I started wearing them in Rio and ever since then I’ve kept the
same pair, washed of course every time I use them. In terms of planning I think you have to
know in the days leading up to your event exactly where you need to be and when. In terms of food for me it depends on the person and how they’re feeling, I don’t have anything specific that
I would eat. However, I would say that rest is important so my event was in the afternoon in
Berlin so I got up as late as I could, so sleep is the biggest thing. I like being around happy and
cheery people on the day, I don’t like being in awkward company because I want to keep as
relaxed as possible,” Niamh explains. One thing that Niamh does do is talk to herself in the third
person, in her head of course, she’s quick to point that out. “Yeah so I came across this
technique of talking about yourself in a positive way. Like saying, ‘Niamh is a good thrower,
Niamh is going to throw well today,’ there’s definitely a method behind the madness for sure,”
she laughs.

For now Niamh is taking a couple of months break before she begins training for the World
Championships in November 2019. She has not ruled out returning to UCC but all of her
attention is currently focused on her role with ‘Dell EMC’ in Ovens and her athletic career.
From everybody at the University Express and UCC we wish Niamh the best of luck!