High jumper Jordan Lee opens up to Adam Moynihan about last year’s Paralympic heartbreak and how he managed to rediscover his confidence in 2022
When Jordan Lee jetted off for Tokyo this time last year, his hopes were high.
The Killarney high jumper was heading east to compete in his first ever Paralympic Games and although he was still new to the sport (he had taken it up just three years prior), his performances up to that point indicated that he wasn’t just there to take part.
Sadly, that’s not how things played out for the then 21-year-old. He underperformed on the world stage and finished last in his field. It was a chastening experience for Lee and the ramifications were potentially huge as his funding from Paralympics Ireland was now – very suddenly - under threat.
“There was a lot of pressure on me to try and retain my funding,” Lee reveals. “I was very much on my last legs. Funding can be wiped away in an instant if you’re not performing. It’s very, very cutthroat. It was 50-50 [for me].”
Losing that financial support would have been life-changing for Lee, who has aspirations of competing at the next World Championships in Paris in 2023.
“If we’re going to call a spade a spade, I had some very poor performances last year. [But] it was just a poor season. I’ve shown consistency over the last four years, I’ve been going on the right trajectory – up until last year when things didn’t go my way.
“It would have been quite harsh to say, ‘he’s had a bad year, we’re going to strip him of his funding’. I think it was a fair compromise to allow me to have another year to prove myself. I have some really good people in my corner that were fighting for my cause.”
With the help of Tomás Griffin (coach), Alan Delaney (high jump technical coach), Shane O’Rourke and Ciarán McCabe (both strength and conditioning), the Kerryman has bounced back in a big way.
“Thankfully I’ve been able to produce a very solid year. There were some clear signs of progression. My best jump last year was 1.87 (metres). I’ve jumped 1.90 three times this year, which is a big improvement.
“Finishing second at the French Grand Prix was a highlight for me. I finished behind the Paralympic silver medallist as well. It was good to finish second at the first international comp since the Paralympics because the confidence had taken a bit of a hit. I’ve always been very confident so when Tokyo came it was a shock to the system.
“In France, I threw myself out there and I had the silver medallist on the edge. He had to pull some jumps out of the bag. It was important to build that confidence up again.”
Lee often speaks of his desire to be recognised as a good pro athlete – not simply a good disabled athlete – and he proved his point once again by winning gold at the National U23 Championships in July. In doing so he became the first disabled competitor since superstar sprinter Jason Smyth to triumph against able-bodied rivals at nationals.
“A lot of it is down to doing the basic things right again, and knowing that Tokyo is over. I can’t be dwelling on it. I’ve got to move on,” Lee says of his recent form.
“Being honest with yourself is important too. I realised that it couldn’t get lower from that point [in Tokyo]. I was actually in a very chilled out headspace all year.
"Provided that I’m training hard, giving it 100%, and being very diligent, I felt that things would get better. All that materialised into a very good season."
“Now I’m in a really good place to retain the funding again for next year. I’m third in the world and second in Europe in both high jump and long jump.”
The long jump is another nice string to Lee’s bow and, true to form, he has sampled immediate success in his new discipline. In his first competition, having trained for the event just twice, he jumped up to second in Europe. He will weigh up the pros and cons of potentially juggling both disciplines next year – the high jump is still his priority - but for now he’s ready to enjoy some downtime.
“It has been a hectic year so I’m looking forward to taking a break and doing normal 22-year-old things for once.”
The Killarney Valley AC man is actually heading to the host city of the next World Championships – Paris – in a couple of weeks, although he says it’s very much a holiday rather than a reconnaissance mission.
Before he signs off for 2022 he will attend the official opening of the Killarney Valley AC Arena tomorrow (Saturday). He and his clubmates will take part in an exhibition of athletics on the day as the club hopes to showcase both their new facilities and the talented young sportspeople who are now benefitting from them.
“It’s something that the club have wanted to do over the past couple of years but it couldn’t happen because of Covid,” Lee says. “We’re looking forward to having a great atmosphere down at the track with tons of people there.
“I know it’s a slogan and a hashtag that we use on social media but the club is legitimately ‘On the Rise’ over the past couple of years. This year alone we’ve won 106 or 107 national and provincial medals – that’s not including county competitions. That’s an insane number for what is a very new club, as such, in terms of moving into the track. It’s amazing to see it.
“Hopefully on Saturday everyone can get a good feel for what the club’s culture is like, get to see us in action and have some fun.
“It’s very hard for the general public to understand athletics, really. Jason Smyth, for example has run the 100 metres in 10.2 seconds. He competes against somebody who runs 10.9. The natural reaction for someone watching that is to think, ‘the guy who ran 10.9 is no good’. But 10.9 is ridiculously fast. That’s still an unbelievable time.
“I think speed and other physical attributes on the track aren’t really recognised by people. They don’t understand how good you have to be to run a certain time or jump a certain height.
“We have an unbelievably talented team right now. It’s hopefully going to be interesting for the people who come down on Saturday. I’m training this week so I can jump over a couple of people’s heads, just to put things into context.”
One of those individuals he’ll be clearing is his girlfriend and fellow para-athlete Madie Wilson-Walker. Or should we say, ‘attempting to clear’?
“We’ve already done it. We tested it out,” Wilson-Walker – who accompanied Lee for this interview – jokes.
Was there any flinching?
“Oh yeah, there was! He said he would do it off three steps and I was like, ‘I swear to God…!’”
“Three steps was bit dodgy,” Lee smiles. “That’s the pressure though. You either have to clear her or something goes wrong.”
As they say in show business, it will be alright on the night. Hopefully.
Lee and Wilson-Walker have been joined at the hip since reuniting post-Covid. The Canadian long jumper – a bilateral amputee who competes using blades - moved to Killarney in 2021 to be with Lee and properly resume their transatlantic romance.
Of course, Lee and Wilson-Walker won’t be the only international athletes on show. The Killarney club currently boasts a number of top-level performers and Lee says that, as a team, they are all pushing each other on to greater things.
“We have an amazing family dynamic in the group. We have group sessions but generally they will split up after the warm-up into different disciplines. Sarah [Leahy] will be doing her stuff with the sprinters, I’ll be doing my stuff with the jumpers, Oisín Lynch and Jason O’Reilly will be doing their own things with their own group of people… It’s great craic.
“The club had to work at the start to get people invested into athletics. Now we have an unbelievable team with athletes who are quitting other sports to stick with us. There’s evidence there to prove that it has worked, with Sarah going to the World Championships. I still don’t think that gets the recognition it deserves. To be competing against the Jamaicans and the Polish – the best in the world – and she’s training here with Killarney Valley…”
There must be a sense of pride there?
“Oh definitely. We always knew Sarah was incredibly talented it was just a question of consistency with her sessions at the track, progressing on bit by bit. She has done that, and she deserves all the rewards that she gets. She’s an incredible athlete.
“I think the likes of Sarah and Ciara Kennelly and myself have inspired the likes of Oisín Lynch and Jason O’Reilly, and hopefully other people in the club, to keep on progressing at a high level.”
It’s not all about the superstars who have Europeans and Worlds and Olympics on their minds, though. As Lee himself has shown through his own achievements to date, sport is for everybody.
“It’s good to have internationals around the place but nobody is held on a pedestal. That’s not what athletics is about. It’s about inclusion. We all have different goals that we want to achieve but the steps to get there remain the same for everybody.”
The official opening of the Killarney Valley AC Arena takes place tomorrow (Saturday) at 3.30pm.
Fossa on cusp of history as club from ‘nine square miles’ eyes senior status
Kerry IFC Final
Fossa v Milltown/Castlemaine
Austin Stack Park
Never before in the history of Kerry football has an Intermediate final attracted so much attention.
On Sunday, two clubs go head-to-head with a trophy and promotion on the line – but this high-profile encounter has far more riding on it than that.
In fact, the consequences of the outcome of this second-tier decider are going to be massive. If Fossa win, they will graduate to senior for the first time in their 53-year existence. It would represent a monumental achievement for the club from the small parish to the northwest of Killarney; few, if any, believed it would ever be possible given their lowly standing as recently as a few years ago.
With two generational talents at their disposal in the form of the Clifford brothers from Two Mile, they have rapidly risen through the ranks. Now they are seeking their second successive promotion following on from last year’s extra time win over Listry in the Junior Premier final.
And if the idea of Fossa going out on their own in the Kery Senior Football Championship wasn’t intriguing enough on its own, there’s more. A Fossa win would mean that East Kerry, winners of four of the last five titles, would lose their Fossa contingent for 2024. Most notable amongst that cohort are Paudie and David Clifford, unquestionably the district’s two most influential players.
There is plenty of intrigue from Milltown/Castlemaine’s perspective too. The Mid Kerry side are aiming to get back to senior level for the first time since being relegated in 2016 following defeat to Kilcummin in a playoff. They were not considered to be amongst the frontrunners for this competition before a ball was kicked, and possibly not after the group stage either, so victory this weekend would be sweet.
Of course, a Milltown/Castlemaine win would also have a huge bearing on the 2024 County Championship. Mid Kerry (runners-up in 2020, 2022 and 2023) stand to lose five starters if Milltown are promoted: Pa Wrenn, David Roche, Gavin Horan, Cillian Burke and Éanna O’Connor. Such a loss would greatly weaken their hand and widen the gap that already exists between them and the reigning champions. Add to that the fact that East Kerry will keep the Cliffords if Milltown/Castlemaine win, and the significance of this game is magnified further still.
There is so much at stake for all the invested parties in East and Mid Kerry, and there is plenty to consider for the neutral fan as well. Many would welcome the weakening of East Kerry’s squad as it would potentially lead to a more competitive County Championship. However, there is serious concern amongst Kerry supporters that the Cliffords are in need of a rest after a long couple of years with club and county. If Fossa prevail they will advance to the Munster Championship and possibly beyond if they manage to keep on winning. This would likely interfere with their star players’ off-season.
There’s no doubt that the nature of Fossa’s matches to date have whetted the appetite for this final. They were involved in exhilarating extra time victories over Castleisland and Austin Stacks in the previous rounds and more excitement of that nature would be more than welcome after a largely disappointing County Championship.
Milltown/Castlemaine also bring plenty to the table and although the momentum from their own semi-final heroics against Legion may have dwindled somewhat over the many weeks between then and now, they can certainly take heart from that result against one of the pre-tournament favourites.
It’s all set up to be a fascinating match-up and a large crowd is expected in Tralee for this one.
The match will also be streamed live by Clubber.
Home double header for St Paul’s and Scotts Lakers
The St Paul’s women’s and men’s teams are both in National League action this Saturday at Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre with their games tipping off at 4.30pm and 7.30pm respectively.
James Fleming’s ladies take on the Phoenix Rockets on the back of that disappointing cup exit at the hands of the Cavan Eagles a fortnight ago and they will be keen to get back to winning ways on home turf.
Paul’s have a perfect 100% record in Division 1 but they are sure to be tested by the Rockets, who gave a fine account of themselves over the course of the 2022/23 season.
They beat Paul’s in Lisburn last February, though the Killarney side exacted revenge in the playoffs in March. The Rockets have made an inconsistent start to the 2023/24 campaign picking up just two wins from the seven games played. The second of those victories came as recently last Saturday when they got the better of the Limerick Sport Eagles at home, but they fell to another defeat against the Huskies back up north the following day.
The Rockets are coached by former Ireland player Breda Dick, a woman who cites Killarney’s own Paudie O’Connor as her role model. Paudie was her first coach at international level and obviously left a huge mark on Breda.
Dick will be looking to the McGrath sisters Charly and Georgie to carry the torch for them as well as American signing Jay Ashby.
For Paul’s, Khiarica Rasheed has been building a good understanding with Sofia Paska and they will be keen to work on that partnership again on Saturday. In the absence of Lorraine Scanlon, who will be attending the LGFA All-Stars, Meabh Barry may be pushed up the ladder. Lynn Jones and Rheanne O’Shea will also be expected to play prominent roles.
Under the guidance of Coach Brian Clarke, Scotts Lakers have established a winning record of 4-2 and as a result they find themselves fifth out of 12 teams in Division 1 of the National League.
They claimed their latest win at home to the Dublin Lions last weekend (81-71) with Americans Braden Bell (26) and Terion Moss (25) accounting for the bulk of the scoring. Jamie O’Sullivan, Oisín Spring and Cian Forde also made their mark on the scoreboard.
Coach Brian Clarke was very pleased with the contribution of his subs on the night. “Our bench was ready to come on and make the difference and I can’t emphasis enough the importance of that,” he told club PRO Enda Walshe.
“Braden and Terion are great shot-makers but they also have a sharp eye for passes to their teammates. Oisín Spring, and Paul Clarke in previous games, are alive to that and make themselves available. It’s a great opportunity for our young players to make their mark and provided they continue to dedicate themselves to their craft, they will get to enjoy that.”
Next up for the Lakers is the visit of the Limerick Celtics on Saturday. The Shannonsiders are currently second in Division 1 having won five of their six matches to date.
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