Loughborough University Chemical Engineering graduate Niall Flannery is out to fulfill a childhood dream - becoming an Olympian. Follow his journey on the Road to Rio.
"Having a brother four years older than me, I just wanted to beat everything he'd done!"
Flannery won’t let hurdles get in the way of his Rio dream
Like many before him, Niall Flannery is a Loughborough Student’s Athletics Club member aiming to become an Olympian. In fact that club may boast over 100 members by the time Rio has been and gone. Already a two-time British champion, Niall’s journey started many years ago and a lot of hard work and sacrifices have got him to where he is today.
“Like a lot of people, I got into athletics at school. It all started by winning sports days and I enjoyed that winning feeling so just wanted to carry on. I started out with a bit of everything and I really enjoyed doing the long jump and hurdling. I also started to weirdly enjoy 800’s, but I’ve done a bit of everything. I eventually stumbled upon 400m hurdles, probably due to a combination of running 800s and being able to hurdle.
“By the time I came to Loughborough I knew that 400mH was my focus and athletics was what I wanted to do as a job. I knew I wanted to get to the Olympics and the World Champs and ultimately coming to Loughborough University has helped support that and made it achievable.”
But Niall wasn’t the only athlete in his family, nor was he the first Flannery to come to Loughborough.
“I have a brother whose four years older than me, so from an early age I just wanted to beat everything that he had done. My dad had kept a record so I knew what I was dealing with and I just wanted to beat all his times and distances.
“My brother came to Loughborough four years before I did and that gave me knowledge of the place, and naturally he recommended it. I then came to an Open Day and met Nick [Dakin], my coach, and it just went from there really. Ultimately it was the whole place, the facilities, the campus, the reputation. Loughborough just has everything, you can’t turn it down.”
Despite a stellar junior career that included a trio of English Schools’ titles, Flannery took a while to fully adapt to life at University, although he did win his first of five BUCS titles.
“My first year at university was pretty shocking; I ran slower than I had done the previous year, but a lot of people actually do that. It’s a change of environment and a change of lifestyle. You start cooking for yourself and you don’t have your home comforts, such as getting back from training and having your dinner on the table straight away. You’ve got to start thinking about everything around it and not just the training. You’re also no longer at school, so there’s no routine and you kind of have to get into a routine and make sure you are doing everything right. It probably takes a year to do that. But yeah, once I got fully settled, I’ve been on my way up.”
The man from the North East isn’t be the only Loughborough University 400m hurdler aiming for Rio though, as his fellow graduates and training partners are fully focused on the same goal.
“I’ve been training with Tom Burton, who is also a former student for years now. We’ve training together since I arrived in 2009 and we’re also pretty good mates off the track. We’ve been helping each other get to where we are now since then basically.
“On the women’s side, there’s obviously Meghan Beesley, who’s probably achieved more than I have. There’s a good camaraderie when we come down to training and I think it helps the current students as well because we train with them on a few sessions every week. I also think it gives them the ambition to get to where we are, as they see us and see what we’re doing. We’re doing pretty much the same programme as they are and if they commit to it and ultimately get to the stage where we are, they can get to the World Champs and get to the Olympics.”
Athletics might be an individual sport, but most of the greats will testify that having a strong support structure around you is vital if you want to succeed.
“The number of great athletes that are based here just inspires you to improve and it has massively helped me improve. From coming in as a fresher and thinking ‘maybe I can achieve something’ to actually being one of those people that inspires people, it’s pretty cool. If I can pass on some of that knowledge and inspiration that others have to me, then I’ll be doing something right.”
With his Chemical Engineering degree in the bag, Flannery can now focus all of his attention on the track, with Rio offering him the chance to fulfil his dreams.
“Ultimately my main aim since I was young was to make the Olympics, so if I can manage to do that and then make the final, it would be a lifetime ambition achieved.
“It would also be a massive reward for my family for all the support they have given me and kind of repay them in some sort of way. All the time they spent ferrying me around the country to events and the money they pumped into buying me kit and things like that. Although it won’t be a monetary repayment, I’d think they’d much prefer me to do that, than me trying to give them a cheque for a certain amount of money.
“In the next two Olympics I’d love to have a medal round my neck; that will be more payment than they would ever expect.”