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Claire gets set to run into the history books; 2012 OLYMPICS TEAM IRELAND: DAY 4.

Byline: GARRETH MacNAMEE

WHEN Claire Bergin steps out on to the athletics track to take part in the 4x400 relay in London next month she will make history.

The 27-year-old will become the first Irish person to compete in successive Winter and Summer Olympics.

She started her amazing journey by competing for the Irish bobsleigh team in Vancouver in 2010.

Although they didn't place, Claire was delighted to be given the chance to be immortalised in sporting history.

So did Cool Runnings, the 90s Disney classic about a group of Jamaican athletes who qualify for the Winter Olympics, inspire her to take up bobsleighing? She joked: "I wish I could say that." Claire told how she had cut her teeth in athletics after becoming a regular running fixture at her Dundrum South Dublin club.

A native of the leafy Foxrock suburb, she has had to sacrifice the indulgences that sometimes seem to be intrinsically linked to South Dublin.

The Ugg boots have been replaced by running shoes, the fake tan with deep heat and the nights out in Coppers with unbridled commitment on the track.

And Claire revealed she's been given a year off by international firm Deloitte - where she is a trainee accountant - to concentrate on her Olympic ambitions.

She joked that some of her colleagues in the office aren't too happy.

Claire said: "Some of the guys who play sport have been asking for a year off to concentrate on their own stuff but they haven't got it."

But there will be no respite when she returns from the Games - Claire's back in the following week, back to the spreadsheets and the morning meetings.

However, she added it can be difficult as a sportswoman when the media jump on the bandwagon for one month every four years. Claire said: "Most people wouldn't follow athletics year to year.

"It's only when the Olympics comes around and that's fair enough. But it's a little annoying in the sense people don't realise the amount of effort that goes in.

"If you don't perform they would be quick to put you down. In that sense it's a bit demoralising."

And Claire revealed she was forced to throw in the towel at one point after injuries took their toll.

She told how before making her triumphant return to world sport at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, a stress fracture to her foot made her give up hope for a while.

Claire added: "I was getting injured quite a lot. I was just sick of it.

"I came to a plateau and wasn't improving and so I gave up athletics for 18 months to 'find myself'.

"And then I realised I need to give this another shot because you're only young once." And she said that sport is once again her first love.

Claire added this is a big hurdle for any possible suitor to get over.

She admitted: "Relationships are difficult. I'm not in one at the moment and I think it's hard for people to understand what you're doing.

"And to appreciate what you're doing you need someone really special to be there for you.

"You don't live the normal life. It can be difficult when everyone around you is going out - you feel you're missing it.

"But you have to think of what you're getting. You're making sacrifices."

Luckily, friends and family have rallied around Claire and supported her on the road to the Olympics.

She said: "Yes, it's important to have that support. It's not a normal life you live. I have friends who aren't involved in sport but who understand you can't go out drinking at the weekends.

"They come to meet me for coffees instead of going out drinking.

"I've been overwhelmed by the support from my friends since I qualified.

"You feel all these eyes looking at you. There's extra eyes on you because it's the Olympics.

"You have to try and control that and do your job and do your best."

Dedication, commitment and a stubbornness never to concede personal defeat is something which flows through Claire's veins.

But as for Ireland's medal ambitions in the 4x400 relay, she becomes a realist.

Claire added: "I know we're going to London and we're not coming home with a medal. I'm fine with that.

"A place in the final is a realistic goal and that might sound defeatist but top-eight in the world would be amazing.

"Between the Americans, Jamaicans and the Russians, they're just in a league of their own."

Claire believes the preparation that goes into the Games is something that is often overlooked. She explained going for a massage in the physio isn't as relaxing as it sounds and it can sometimes be likened to a training session in itself.

Claire said: "I've to take ice baths to recover all the time - they're horrible.

"But what's worse is something called needling. This is where the physio actually puts a needle into your muscle and wiggles it around to release the muscle."

Claire takes to the athletics track on August 10 to run for Ireland with the rest of the team.

She is starting the relay and said there may be one or two butterflies floating around at that moment.

Claire admitted: "I'm worried about breaking the gun - hopefully that won't happen!"

CAPTION(S):

SPORTING CHANCE Claire Bergin at her Dublin home THE EYE-LIMPICS The Olympic Torch was taken on top of the London Eye yesterday. Amelia Hempleman-Adams, 17, admitted: "It was quite scary." LETTING IT SLIDE Irish bobsleigh team Claire and Aoife Hoey ahead of Vancouver Winter Olympics IN THE RUNNING At the Irish Senior Indoor Championships in Belfast in February
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 23, 2012
Words:945
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