History-making Irish female cyclist Shannon McCurley finished fourth in the repechage of the Keirin in the Olympic Games, with the winner progressing to the next round.
Having placed fifth in the heats shortly beforehand, McCurley gave the performance of her life in the repechage, accelerating fast in the last half lap, finishing within 0.268 seconds of winner Anasasiia Voinova. This is the first Olympic Games for McCurley, who has set her target as Tokyo 2020, and it is also the first time that Ireland has qualified a woman in track cycling at the Olympics. The young rider won bronze in the Scratch Race at the U23 European Track Championships in 2011 before switching her focus to the Keirin, an Olympic discipline, in October 2014.
Speaking after her race Shannon McCurley was happy with her performance, and motivated for the future: “That was a tough one. It was the hardest race of my life! I’m in the best form of my life, and just wanted to get through, but the field was stronger than ever. There were two riders from each nation, whereas at the World Cups there’s usually just one. That was hard fast racing and the quickest Keirin I’ve ever had.”
McCurley has just finished a training block in Portugal, and was looking forward to racing; “I had a really hard camp leading up to this and I came into it pumped. I definitely thought that compared to other races I really held my own in the field. In the first race my wheel chopped hard, which threw me a bit, but I came home hard, so knew I had more. The last race I got stuck into it a lot more, I did some beautiful jumps. Even my coach (John Beasley) at the end said I held my own in the field, and definitely belonged there. He’s never said that before! Another four years and I’ll be looking for a medal; this is only my second year!”
Although relatively new to Keirin racing McCurley has adapted well, but feels that there are technical advances that she can make; “In the last race when Voinova went high I wish I went with her, I waited for the Cuban to go, I was looking for the inside line. When I get the confidence to go high I’ll be going so much better. The girls I’m racing against are older, for some it’s their third Olympic cycle and I just started before the qualifying stages.”
McCurley is an Australian based Irish rider, whose father is from Belfast and mother is from Dublin, started her sporting career as a runner before switching to cycling and declaring for Ireland in 2011. While McCurley is the first female track cyclist to compete at the Olympics, she is the seventh Irish track cyclist to become an Olympian. The experience has been a very positive one for McCurley; “I’ve got the taste for the Olympics now, I want so much more for Tokyo, I want to ride for a medal. The amount of support from everyone is overwhelming – from Australia and Ireland. I’m just sitting reading the messages with tears in my eyes. I would love to be racing this afternoon, I really wanted more, but I rode hard and gave it my all.”