Tuesday, June 12, 2007

European Duathlon Championships June 16/17

Sun 10 Jun 2007

Dual purpose: Catriona Morrison may have lost her duathlon world title, but the demands of the Holyrood Park course for the European event is much better suited to her strengths.
Picture: Toby Williams

Morrison ready to dual at dawn
THERE were no more than a couple of very early morning joggers, some bleary-eyed dog walkers and lots of singing larks in Holyrood Park when Catriona Morrison arrived there yesterday morning.

She had woken at the ungodly hour of 5.30am and less than an hour later, having driven in from her home in Broxburn, was on her bike, lapping Arthur's Seat against the flow of traffic. Had there been any traffic.

This was her last recce' of the course, a week before her biggest engagement of 2007 - Saturday's European Duathlon Championships. And the early start was not by choice, but of necessity, so that she could cycle the course in the anti-clockwise direction of the race and, in the process, avoid any head-on collisions with cars.

The European championship represents unfinished business for Morrison, who triumphed in the world title last year in Canada but could manage 'only' a relatively modest seventh in the European race in Italy. As of last month she is no longer the reigning world champion, having conceded her title - as she anticipated - in Hungary, finishing ninth.

There were extenuating circumstances - a flat course; Morrison likes hills - and the fact she was in the middle of a hard training phase. Even so, she was a little disappointed with ninth, but, very typically, sees the positives: "It was a good wake-up call; it gave me a kick up the bum."

If Hungary was the antithesis of the kind of course on which she excels then Saturday's championship, around Arthur's Seat - the cycling component of the run-bike-run event is a gruelling six laps - is perfect: it could almost have been designed with Morrison in mind. Which perhaps isn't too far from the truth. "It has Morrison written all over it," she laughs. "In fact, I might go and put graffiti on it myself."

Cue a gentle reminder that this might not be such a good idea, not in the royal park. It could get her into the kind of trouble that landed the father of Welsh cyclist Nicole Cooke in prison in Athens, when he daubed the roads with white paint, spelling out his daughter's name, before the Olympic road race in 2004. "Oh, I'll not suggest it to my dad then," adds Morrison quickly.

Morrison is always bubbly, but even more so on the eve of this European championship. The 30-year old has waited for years for an opportunity to win a major title on home turf and she would certainly be a popular champion, with her father unlikely to be alone in supporting her on Saturday. Her popularity owes much to her effervescent personality, but also her sport, with triathlon forming a sizeable community in itself, while also interfacing with its component parts: athletics, cycling, swimming.

It is often intriguing to wonder how the top triathletes might fare in these sports, but in the case of Morrison there is no need to speculate. She is an outstanding runner, finishing second this winter in both the short and long course national cross country title races. She is also an excellent cyclist. And a very good swimmer.

But her heart lies in duathlon, which doesn't always make life easy. While triathlon features in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, duathlon does not. And it is this - given Morrison's decision last year to focus on duathlon - that led to her sportscotland funding being cut. She does receive some funding from sportscotland, but not enough to pursue her sport on a full-time basis, as she did in the build-up to last year's Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

It was the timing of the funding cut - in the aftermath of her world title success last July - that was particularly hard to take, and which led to her case being highlighted in the media and even raised in the Scottish Parliament. The fact is that, although there is more money being poured into sport than ever before, the pot is smaller for non-Olympic sports and it is athletes such as Morrison who struggle.

Within weeks of her world title success she started a new job, as an active schools co-ordinator at Broxburn Academy. She kept training, kept herself fit - witness her two silver medals in the cross country championships - and then in March there was a twist in her funding tale. The Scottish Institute of Sport Foundation, established by Bill Gammell to develop 'winning cultures' in Scottish sport, decided to make Morrison their first individually-funded athlete. The SISF awarded her £7,500.

"The fact that it's a non-Olympic and non-Commonwealth sport is totally irrelevant," explained the Foundation's executive director, Graham Watson, who spoke about the award to Morrison as an "investment". He described her as an athlete who could "inspire a new generation of athletes... for a relatively small investment we can help someone become a European champion. For a few thousand pounds you can make a major impact. It's a great opportunity".

For Morrison, it also presented an opportunity to step up her training by reducing her working week to three days. "At the end of March there was another girl coming back from maternity leave, so I put my hand up and said I'd be happy to job-share. It wasn't a plan, it just happened. But the support from the Foundation helped make that possible. It's wonderful to get that support, and it makes me even more determined to go out there next week and produce the performance I've been supported to give."

The funding has also meant that her programme leading up to Saturday's championship has not been dictated by other concerns. She was tempted by the recent big money Corus Elite Series triathlon in Strathclyde Park. "I was going to, and I really wanted to do it, it was such a hard decision, but I thought if it was cold and wet and miserable, and I go out and hurt myself, then I'd end up compromising my training for the race that I really want to do. So I pulled the plug on it.

"It would have been a risk to do it, and I didn't want to take any risks ahead of the Europeans. I was trying to do a cost/benefit equation."

Instead, she set her alarm for 5.30am and made one of her early morning visits to Holyrood Park. If local knowledge counts for anything, then she should start on Saturday at a considerable advantage. "I think by lap four of the cycling section we'll be cursing and blinding," she says with a laugh that could be interpreted either as sadistic or masochistic, or a bit of both. "It's definitely one of the tougher courses, but that suits me. To win a race like this at home would be a dream. Last year was the first European duathlon I'd done, and it didn't play to my strengths. This one does play to my strengths, it's in my comfort zone."

The one disappointment for Morrison is the size of the field for the women's race. Although around 700 athletes will compete over the course of the day - there is a supporting triathlon before the age-related and elite duathlon championship races - only 20 or so women will line up in the elite race. Morrison is the only Scot, and there are none in the men's race, though this at least has a field of 40.

And yet, despite that, it could turn into a day of double Scottish success. Seventeen-year old Kirsty McWilliam, whose outstanding third in the Corus elite triathlon at Strathclyde Park has earned her a place in the Great Britain team for the European Triathlon Championships in Copenhagen at the end of the month, is competing in Saturday's junior race. "I'd top tip her," says Morrison. Then she laughs again. "So no pressure then, Kirsty."

This article: http://sport.scotsman.com/athletics.cfm?id=905922007

Last updated: 09-Jun-07 00:12 BST

Although the British team will be missing 2007 World Champion Paul Amey and silver medallist, Michelle Dillon, they will have the experience and local knowledge of Scotland's Catriona Morrison, the 2006 Duathlon World Champion.

Morrison, who started her season by winning the National Duathlon Championships at Clumber Park in Derbyshire, added an international podium finish with second place at the Half Ironman event at St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. Unfortunately she endured a torrid time at the World Championships where mechanical problems on the bike leg dropped her back to finish in ninth place. In her own words, she says: "I have a lot to prove in Edinburgh!"

GO AND GET THAT TITLE CATRIONA! Get Married. Then get your butt to Calgary for that so called vacation.

"Expose yourself to your deepest fear, and fear will have no more power". Van Morrison

No comments: