Kelly Murphy and team-mates in pursuit of an Olympic dream

No Irish cycling team of men or women have qualified for Olympic track events

Every Olympic journey has its own different beginning. A childhood dream, or biting ambition, or in the case of Kelly Murphy a phonecall out of the blue from Cycling Ireland. No turning back since.

The destination isn’t quite yet realised, that’s only a matter of Murphy and her team-mates staying on track in the women’s team pursuit to book their place in the Paris Olympic velodrome come next July – with that going where no Irish cycling team has gone before.

For Murphy it would also complete one of the more unlikely Olympic journeys known to the sport, given she only took up competitive cycling at age 26 after first taking to her bike for purely commuting purposes. Now at 34 her latent cycling talent is still coming to fruition.

Born in London to Irish parents (Ger and Ellen Murphy, who happened to grow up as neighbours in Dublin) she had already been in pursuit of a very different career at that stage having just completed her PhD in brain imaging and cognitive neuroscience at Aston University in Birmingham.

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“I was still studying for my PhD when I first began riding my bike,” Murphy says. “So racing wasn’t something that even entered my consciousness at the time. I was only averagely sporting as a kid so going to the Olympics was never on my radar.

“I’d done a handful of local races, and I think just met the right people at the right time, and one day got a phonecall from the Irish federation asking if it was something I wanted to do, if I was free to travel to Mallorca. I think I know a good deal when I see one. And living the dream ever since.”

At last week’s UEC Track European Championships in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, Murphy teamed up with Lara Gillespie, Alice Sharpe, Erin Creighton and Mia Griffin to nail fourth place in the women’s team pursuit final (the 4km race where teams line up at opposite sides of the velodrome, the four riders in the final being Murphy, Gillespie, Sharpe and Griffin).

This was despite a spectacular crash in the opening round against Switzerland, Murphy being twice run over in the process in an event where riders can reach up to 60km per hour:.“It can be quite common,” she says. “But I’ve been riding track with the Irish team for the last six years now, and that was only my second crash. I was actually run over twice but came away quite okay actually, a few bruises to show for it but nothing terrible.

“It could have been a lot worse. But crashing on the road is quite common, so you do get quite good at it. We also have what’s called a fixed gear so the bike doesn’t roll if you don’t pedal. So you can assess people’s body language, if they’re slowing down or not. But I’d quite happily label myself as the biggest scaredy-cat of the group.”

Following a 10-day break after Apeldoorn, the quintet head next to three remaining Nations Cup events before Paris: in Adelaide, Hong Kong and, finally, in Milton in Canada. The two best results from those three events go towards the Olympic ranking, the Irish women currently ranked ninth, the top-10 making Paris (as well as earning places in the Omnium and Madison events, to go with the women’s road race place already qualified by Griffin). As of now they are still primed for it.

No Irish men’s or women’s cycling team have qualified for the Olympic track events before, although Cycling Ireland have been on this journey for a while, setting up a track cycling camp in Mallorca almost 20 years ago to further their purpose of reaching the Olympic stage. Soon further Olympic pursuits will turn to the long-awaited velodrome finally set for construction at the Sport Ireland Campus in Abbotstown.

Now based between Birmingham and Mallorca, Murphy first took to cycling to speed up her 10km commute to university, soon realising what was taking 90 minutes on public transport was taking less than half that on her bike. She did have some base fitness from running, only something about cycling lit a competitive spark and she soon started timing herself on a cheap Casio watch.

Later she was invited to join a local cycling group, and in 2017 rode in the Tour of Yorkshire, before finishing second in the Irish Time-Trial Championships; she’s since won four titles, in 2018, 2019, 2022 and 2023.

She still competes on the road during the summer (currently with British team Doltcini O’Shea), but for now it’s all about that journey Paris. With a team pursuit bronze from the 2021 European Championships in Grenchen, Switzerland, the team are also well familiar with each other, Paris a deserving destination.

“For me personally, getting to the Olympics, well I very much see myself as someone who is not very talented, so it’s something I would have had to have earned. But we’ve been plugging away now for some time, as a unit, so for all of us to reach our destination that would be the dream come true.”

Murphy also placed sixth in the individual pursuit in Apeldoorn, with Gillespie, still only 22, also placing fourth in the Omnium and in the Points race. All valuable ranking points on that journey to Paris.

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