Irish Gymnast Kieran Behan (22) is set to take to the World stage at the ‘London Prepares’ Olympic Test Event. Kieran has made the short journey to the North Greenwich arena (better known as the o2) from Tolworth gymnastics club to compete on Tuesday in the final qualifier for the London 2012 Games.
Behan’s is not your ‘ordinary story’ of a hopeful young gymnast trying to qualify for a place in the Olympic games but one of tremendous courage over many years, battling against injuries which would surely have resulted in a lesser man retiring from the sport.
As we related here on SportsNewsIreland , back on the 24th September 2011, Kieran won bronze on Floor at the World Challenge Series, in Maribor, Slovenia , a first for Ireland, and his success continued a month later in Croatia where he won silver. The best though was yet to come when in early December he struck Gold at the Challenge World Cup in Ostrava, the first time an Irish gymnast had ever won such a prestigious title.
Gymnastics Ireland’s Performance and Technical Director, Sally Filmer told us then : “This is a fantastic achievement for Kieran and Ireland. Kieran is showing such stability in his routine and with confidence and consistency the results have been great.Stepping out in these World events requires strong preparation and focus for producing clean consistent routines.
“Kieran is showing his strength as a competitor now. It’s exciting times for him”
Little more than nine years ago, Tolworth Gymnastics Club’s Behan faced up to the grim prospect of never walking again, following a training accident which resulted in major neurological injuries. Advice from specialists warned him of the possible long term consequences.
Kieran was wheelchair bound for almost three years – his studies were obviously affected. He had at the time just recovered from a year out of the sport after an operation to remove a tumour from his leg left him unable to walk. The future appeared bleak.
More misfortune followed.- Behan ruptured cruciate ligaments in his right knee in 2008 and then did the same to his left the following year forcing him out of the sport until making his return to international competition in March.
Croydon-born Behan,a one time member of Team GB Gymnastics, and whose parents are Irish, told the “Surrey Comet” :-
“When I was 11, I had a tumour in my leg that they thought was cancerous, but the operation to remove it went a bit wrong,” he said.
“They left the tourniquet on for too long and it caused severe nerve damage and put me in a wheelchair for just under a year.
“When I started gymnastics again, I hit my head on the high bar during a routine and the injury was so severe I had to learn to walk, to eat, to talk and to basically do everything. I was in a wheelchair for nearly three years.
“They didn’t think I would walk again let alone compete at gymnastics.
“There is nothing I can do about all the time I’ve missed. All I can do now is show people what I am capable of and I’m determined to do that.”
As he explained to the ‘Comet’ , whilst he was recovering from these serious injuries, he set about raising the £12,000 required to compete on the International scene.
He raised the £12,000 he needed to compete on the international stage this year by selling sweets and washing cars at his gym club.
It makes his recent achievement all the sweeter and Behan believes a place at the final qualifying event – the Olympic test meeting at the North Greenwich Arena/O2 – is just reward for his efforts.
All of the Irish internationals train in the UK because the facilities are much better over here.
“Five of us are based at Tolworth and if we can keep progressing the team can qualify for the 2016 Games.”
So how did he spend Christmas and the New Year? The modest but fiercely competitive 22-year-old said before leaving for Tuesday’s event: “I’ve been working hard over the holiday period. I would like to thank my family, coaches and club for helping me through to this point. I’m now looking forward to competing. Winning world cup gold and then the series has been amazing. This event is now the icing on the cake.”
Ireland qualified for a place at the Test Event after the World event and Sally Filmer, Performance and Technical Manager at Gymnastics Ireland said: “It is an exciting start to 2012 with our gymnast Kieran Behan qualifying to this 2nd Olympic qualifying event. Kieran. having had a fantastic year in 2011 winning the Series in the World Cups and taking his 3 world cup medals for Ireland, has been preparing for this Test Event. Kieran’s experience gained in 2011 with his preparation, consistent strength in performances will hope to aid him in producing clean routines for him to achieve a personal best.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for Ireland to get this far – this test event is the 2nd qualifier to the Olympic Games and the event is being held in the London 02 the same venue as the Olympics. Some of the world’s top gymnasts will be competing to secure further team spots and individual places to the Olympics.”
Kieran trains for up to thirty hours a week at Tolworth Gymnastics club in Surrey, coached by Simon Gale, Demetrios Bradshaw and Darren Gerrard .
Kieran’s coach, Simon Gale, said: “We are looking forward to competing in the test event. Kieran has worked hard on his routines through Christmas and we are looking forward to going out and trying to go for 6 clean routines. We consider this an amazing achievement to get this far, especially when you consider so many other Countries having a stronger pedigree in gymnastics haven’t got this far.
As Sally Filmer and Stuart Gale have said it is am amazing achievement for Kieran to have got this far, taking into consideration the horrific injuries he has sustained . Clearly a courageous young man who has already overcome all the odds to pursue his favourite sport.
Irrespective of what happens in the North Greenwich Arena this week, Kieran Behan – and Ireland – can be justly proud of his performances todate against all the odds . For his courage alone in overcoming such a devastating series of injuries , Behan deserves a medal
though I am sure that what he really would treasure more than anything else just now would be a place in London 2012. Given good health from now on, let us hope that if not in 2012 then in Rio 2016. We wish him well this week.