Irish bobsleigh pilot Aoife Hoey safely negotiated her Winter Olympic debut and said her and Claire Bergin’s performances at the Whistler Sliding Centre had served as a major boost for winter sports in Ireland.
Hoey and brakewoman Bergin became the first women’s bobsleigh team from Ireland to qualify for the Games, finishing 17th of the 21 teams last night in an event won by Canada’s Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyes.
Regardless of the result, the pair have made a big impact back home and former Irish triple jump champion Hoey, 26, said: ‘Winter sports have got a big boost.
‘We’ve been trying to get media for back home. People have the impression that you’re from Ireland and you don’t have snow but just because you don’t have something doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
‘We want to encourage people to follow their dreams.’
Olympic Council of Ireland CEO Stephen Martin said ” I’m delighted for girls , they have had a tough qualification process and had to deal with challenges to their rightful place on the start line. But have shown tremendous character to finish 17th in this world class field.”
He added,”Credit to Horst Hornlein their coach for the way he helped the girls cope with a very fast and technical track. The team have raised the profile of their sport in Ireland, and more significantly their performance capability. Quite simply they have shown that they can compete credibly on the world stage and have won the hearts of many fans at home and abroad in doing so. Their age profile, their experience of world class competition and performance improvement indicate that they can improve further, and as part of the debrief process we will look ahead to plans for Sochi 2014 “
As well as completing their four heats without incident while other teams crashed on the sport’s fastest track in the world, the pair had also survived two legal bids to have them removed from the competition in favour of teams from Australia and Brazil in a dispute of geographic representation.
The Australian pair of Astrid Loch-Wilkinson and Cecilia McIntosh were added to the start list as a 21st team and the Irish team had the satisfaction of seeing them finish two places below them in 19th having crashed on their final run.
‘After all the legal fuss before the competition, we feel vindicated with the results achieved here,’ Hoey said.
‘The atmosphere at the track was awesome but not intimidating and we decided to go for broke on each run but being careful not to crash.
‘Yesterday’s nervousness was not there, we were upbeat and confident on each run.
‘We’re thrilled to finish 17th and will hold our heads up high in the knowledge we did our best for our country on what was the fastest and toughest track we have ever encountered. Our journey wouln’t have been possible without the support from the Olympic Council of Ireland athlete scholarships and purchasing a state of the art bob to seriuosly compete internationally”
Bergin, 25, who ran for Ireland in the 4x400m relay at last year’s European Championships in Turin, said she was thrilled with her first Olympic experience.
‘Fantastic. I’m so happy we got to do the fourth run. The support we have here is fantastic,’Bergin said.
‘It’s been a rollercoaster ride I guess. Nothing can replace being at the Olympic Games.’