"Anywhere from four to eight hours a day" - Ireland's teenagers rearing for Worlds
By Cathal Dennehy
If you’re good enough, you’re old enough, and that’s certainly the case for three Irish teenagers who will get their first taste of a World Gymnastics Championships this weekend in Stuttgart.
For Kate Molloy (15), Emma Slevin (16) and Meg Ryan (17), Friday’s qualifying in the All-Around event will mark a pivotal step forward, one each of them has been working towards for the best part of a decade.
It’s a sport that requires so much of them. “Anywhere from four to eight hours a day,” says Slevin, a Galway native who juggles the demands of gymnastics with her schoolwork. “It’s hard but you can’t waste any time. My school is very good, if I don’t get my homework done they know why but it’s my responsibility to catch up. Gymnastics takes up a lot of time but in the end it’s worth it.”
Slevin is a rising star of the sport here, having come through Gymnastics Ireland’s high performance pathway. Last year she became the first Irish female gymnast to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games, where she was Irish flag bearer at the opening ceremony and qualified for finals on various apparatus and in the All-Around.
She was a relatively late arrival to elite gymnastics, taking it up at the age of seven, and her coach Sally Batley has kept a watchful eye on her progress over the years. It’s not easy. Far from it, but in recent weeks things began to click in Slevin’s preparations, and the 16-year-old hopes to net a top-50 finish in Stuttgart.
Kate Molloy has come through much adversity to be ready for her World Championship debut. The 15-year-old suffered a stress fracture in her back and missed two months of training in March and April, but has been carefully brought back to full fitness. It helps having access to Gymnastics Ireland’s new base at the National Sports Campus, where they are building links with the medical expertise at the Sport Ireland Institute.
“I had to do a lot of rehab to get back where I was,” she said. “I slowly built back up my skills. I have a few aches and pains some days but overall it’s good.”
Molloy, like Slevin, is based in Galway and coached by Batley and she took up the sport at the age of six, juggling it with swimming in her early years before she jettisoned the latter to concentrate on gymnastics.
Earlier this year she stepped up to senior level by competing at the World Challenge Cup in Turkey. Her long-term goal is simple: “I’d love to make the Olympics.”
While the 2020 Games could come too soon for them, this week’s World Championships should provide pivotal experience for the three teenagers for the years ahead. That’s also the hope for Meg Ryan, the 17-year-old Douglas gymnast who recently delivered Ireland’s first podium finish at the World Challenge Cup in Turkey, taking silver on the uneven bars.
“I was really happy with that, and it’s the World Championships I’m concentrating on now,” said Ryan, who also played Gaelic football in her early years before concentrating on the gymnastics. “It was the excitement of gymnastics that appealed to me, getting new skills all the time,” she said.
Having just started fifth year at Christ King in Douglas there are many things that need to be sacrificed, things other teenagers take for granted, but Molloy has never second-guessed her dedication. “You struggle going into secondary school but once I was in it I got used to it,” she said. “I know that’s just what I have to do.”