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Hurdles is a discipline where Ireland has an impressive depth of up and coming talent. James Sullivan has been chatting with national junior 60m hurdles indoor record holder Sarah Lavin.

Sarah Lavin is an elite junior athlete from County Limerick, Ireland who specialises in the 60m hurdles and 100m hurdles. She won the bronze medal at the 2011 European Youth Olympic Festival in Tranzon, Turkey and was a semi-finalist at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona. She currently holds the Irish junior indoor record for 60m hurdles with a clocking of 8.36 seconds.

Sarah Lavin representing her club Emerald AC

James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. Easy questions first, what is your earliest memory of competing in athletics and what was it that attracted you to the sprint hurdles?

Sarah: My earliest memory is my primary school sports day when I was 5 or 6 years old. I did ballet but I was always nagging my parents to bring me along to an athletics club. There was no club that would take me until I turned 7. I then joined Emerald AC and my first experience was rain, mud and cold at the Limerick Leagues. Since then I took to sprinting because I suppose I was best at it but at 16, I took up sprint hurdling. It was probably always going to happen. My coach Noelle Morrissey was a champion underage hurdler and won many AAA titles so she was always a little biased towards them and I knew that as I began to compete as a youth, sprinting was more of a closed shop. Hurdling was an event that I could use my flat speed and because of the technical aspect of it, it isn’t dominated by any one nation.

James: Did you have a particular athletics idol growing up?

Sarah: Yes, obviously Derval O’Rourke has always been a role model. I have pictures with her when I was maybe 12, watching her train in Limerick and the funny thing was that last year, when I was competing against her at National Indoors, she had signed my club singlet from a few years ago and I was still running with it….. that was funny! It is always nice to admire someone who you fully trust is clean in the sport. Outside of Ireland, Sally Pearson is amazing to watch and I hope she continues to get closer and closer to the World Record.

James: The 100m Hurdles comprises a strong blend of speed and technique. Which of these do you believe to be your greatest strength?

Sarah: It would probably be my speed. Technically, I have lots of work to do to reduce my time in the air. That said, my speed also needs to get faster and faster in order to compete with the best. I think it would be a worse situation though if everything was perfect and I was still only a junior.

James: At the 2011 European Youth Olympic Festival in Trabzon, Turkey, you claimed the bronze medal in the 100m Hurdles. Can you put this experience into words?

Bronze at the 2011 European Youth Olympic Festival

Sarah: I was so happy and relieved that day. The weeks and months going into the competition were not ideal with my hamstring. My parents and coach would certainly attest to saying that I was not a pleasure to live with those few months. It was terribly frustrating but looking back now it was probably a blessing in disguise. I know now how much I want it. There was such a wonderful team spirit in Trabzon. Team manager, Bernie Alcorn was like a mother figure to all but at the same time ensured that we got the job done. She certainly was a wonderful help. Nobody wanted to come home without a medal.

James: What other moments from your career to date are you particularly proud of?

Sarah: Equalling Derval’s national junior record at National Indoors 2012 and then coming back this year and taking it for myself certainly had some pride associated with it. But I was probably proudest last year at World Juniors when I fell in the semi final. I really gave it everything I had but hurdles are extremely unforgiving and a split moment lapse of concentration meant I was on the ground. I knew though walking away that I was up there with the best in the world with the best part of my race still to come. I just wish I had crossed the line and maybe have made a world final!!

James: What are your goals for the 2013 track season?

Sarah: My aim is for the European Junior Championships in Rieti in July. I don’t really mind what happens in any other race this year. That is the one competition that is actually going to count. Of course, I will have to run quick between now and then but that will all come naturally and I am not too concerned. I am also going to finish the season at the National Seniors. I have never competed in them outdoors because I have finished my season on whatever major competition that was on, but I am looking forward to competing at them this year.

James: Can you describe an average week of training, specifically in terms of key speed and technique based sessions? How does the mix between the two differ at various times of the year?

Sarah: An average week of training would mean maybe two technical sessions and then two speed/speed endurance sessions. During the winter, this is very different. I really do not enjoy winter training because speed work is generally all speed endurance but I get by and I am glad to have January come.

James: With regards strength work in the gym how much emphasis do you put on this? What sort of specific exercises do you incorporate into your training?

Sarah: Since I tore my hamstring a few years ago strength and conditioning has started to play a big part. I am very lucky to have John Cleary who I have a huge amount of trust in and together with Noelle, we have a good team. It is all mainly leg work because that’s what I use when I run and my hamstrings have certainly become stronger. My chin-up attempts though are quite comical!

James: How important is endurance for a sprint hurdler? What sort of aerobic power speed endurance work do you incorporate into your training? Do you run many 200m and 400m races?

Sarah: Well, particularly for the 100mH speed endurance plays a bigger role. You can get away with it indoors but outdoors is a different ball game with double the amount of hurdles. It would be rare that I would ever run over 200m but I certainly would do repeat 200s. I would never/will never do a 400 race…. unless there was an enormous incentive. I have raced the 200m twice this year which is pretty strange for me but it is good for strength I suppose. It does take a lot of convincing to get me to do it. I much prefer the 100m for speed, the 200m is hard work.

James: What are your favourite and least favourite sessions?

Sarah: My favourite is a technical hurdles session the week of the race. I love hurdling in training. I really do detest the winter work of uphills and the sessions with little recovery (puke sessions). They always get the better of me.

Member of the Irish team for the 2012 World Junior Championships

James: There is a lot of talent coming through in Ireland in the hurdle events. How significant has the formation of the Irish Hurdlers Series been in raising the overall standard in this discipline?

Sarah: It has been great for the publicity it has given hurdling in Ireland. No other event has someone with such an interest in documenting significant performances from schools to senior level and I think it’s really important that exceptional performers are identified at a young age. I think the recognition has certainly aided the hurdling events.

James: More specific to your own event, in recent years the numbers competing in the women’s sprint hurdles at the Irish National Championships have been very low. Why do you believe this to be the case and what can be done to get more athletes involved in the event?

Sarah: Having an athlete of Derval’s status is probably off-putting to some people to run against. I think it is probably just part and parcel of having an athlete of that calibre. I suppose just continued encouragement into the event from a schools level will increase participation in future years. As you said, there is a lot of talent coming through at the moment.

James: There have been suggestions by some that the height of the women’s 100m hurdles should be increased, to place greater importance on technique. What are your thoughts on this?

Sarah: I probably am too high over them at the moment so it would probably be fine but I think by raising them an extra 3 inches, it is going to turn the event into another sport for tall  people to dominate. I like the hurdles just the way they are! But if they were any lower, it would just be another event dominated by Jamaicans and Americans.

James: What are your views on drug taking in athletics?

Sarah: I’m glad that the biological passport seems to be catching a few more but I just think that it is so frustrating on those whose hard work is ruined by the cheats. It’s those who miss out on an Olympic final by one spot and find out a few months later that a cheat was in it, or come 4th and never actually get to stand on the podium. It’s sickening. I just hope that WADA can catch up with the drugs and cheats out there and hopefully some day it will be a cleaner sport. Unfortunately, I don’t know if it will ever be completely clean.

James: When not competing, do you enjoy watching athletics? What current athlete do you like watching the most?

Sarah: I love watching athletics on the television. My whole family could just spend the day in front of the TV, glued to it! Sally Pearson, Lolo Jones, Yelena Isinbayeva, Blanka Vlasic and Allyson Felix are some of my favourite to watch….. all for different reasons! Of course, the men’s 100m is great and they provide good entertainment regardless of anything else. I enjoy watching Jessica Ennis the most though. She is so composed and grounded and I think that is very important to ensure you never lose sight.

James: That’s great Sarah. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck this summer.

Sarah: No problem! Thank you.

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