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Monday 28 July 2014

Behan's bid floored by emotion but his remarkable story will inspire

GYMNASTICS: Kieran Behan's distress was painfully obvious following his floor performance on Saturday.

Yet, while Behan exited the gymnastics competition at the North Greenwich Arena with a display below his best, Ireland can expect to benefit hugely from Kieran's experience.

It wasn't meant to happen. But as it does to many Olympic athletes, the significance of the occasion got to Kieran.

In Behan's case, competing in these Games was truly a profound achievement. In reality, Kieran was lucky to be here at all. That he scored 13.966 spoke volumes of the man's talent and strength of character.

Twice in his young life. this 23-year-old was told by medical specialists that he would never walk again. But Kieran, whose parents come from Monaghan and Dublin, had a dream. Not just of walking but of representing Ireland in the Olympic Games.

By sheer strength of will Kieran not only defied medical science, but put himself through a training regime that saw him become one of the elite gymnasts in the world. Until recently, his training was funded by selling bacon rolls and washing cars.

The guy, whose granny lives in Santry, pursued his sporting vision with a passion that's a credit to his family.

"In hospital they were telling me I'd have to be realistic and come to terms with the fact that I'd never walk again," Kieran told me recently. "Let alone do gymnastics. So to get back and to top it off by getting to the Olympics is the impossible dream. As long as you believe and work hard, then anything is achievable."

Of the six pieces of apparatus in men's gymnastics, the floor was the one Kieran excelled in. On Saturday, the emotion of finding himself representing his country against all the odds took a cruel toll. Two minor blips cost him the valuable points that would have put him through as one of eight finalists.

But no one is likely to write off this determined London Irish athlete. Before he went into the Olympic village, Kieran shared another dream with me.

"The media attention I've been getting is something that will help Irish gymnastics as a whole," he said. "Hopefully everybody will want to do gymnastics. The aim is to put back into gymnastics what I've learned in gymnastics."

As Behan's coach Demetrios Bradshaw explained: "With Kieran, I've learnt about determination, perfection and belief. It's been a long, hard road for him. I'll tell every gymnast I work with in the future to believe. If you believe, then you can achieve. Belief is crucial.

"It take a good 10 to 15 years to develop a gymnast up to Kieran's age," he added. "Hopefully in the future, if Gymnastics Ireland can provide funding for promising young gymnasts. Then we can develop better gymnasts for the team.

As Kieran said: "I take every competition as it comes. I'm realistic in my goal-setting.

"I'm going to keep going until I can't do it physically any more. Hopefully we can get a team or at least a couple of individuals through for 2016. It's great that we're looking to put a team out for the European Championships later this year.

"That'll be the first time we had a team out since 1996. It will be fantastic to show that Ireland has a team that's coming through."

Despite his iron-willed determination, Kieran wasn't prepared for the wave of emotion that hit him as he walked to the podium. "It was just crazy," he admitted. "It has been a very emotional day. But I will try and get over it and come back stronger."

Today, Behan can take strength from knowing that he achieved an impossible dream. Against the odds, he became an Olympian. With that major psychological hurdle out of the way, we can expect Kieran Behan to press on to even more spectacular heights in an Irish vest.

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