John Fitzsimons, Kildare AC
With the pedigree he has John Fitzsimons, pictured right, was destined to be an athlete.
Both his grandfathers were heavily involved with Kildare Athletic Club. Anthony Fitzsimons was one of the founders of the club back in the ’50s while his other grandfather, Pat Murphy, was a 2.16 marathoner who also won a world Over 35 title and represented Ireland on many occasions. John's, mam and dad, uncles and aunties were also runners so it was more or less inevitable that John would eventually get the grá for the sport.
John's grandad, Anthony, unfortunately passed away late last year and no doubt he would have been delighted and very proud when the word came through last week that John had been selected, for the first time at senior level, as part of the Ireland 24 person panel that will be heading off to Poland this week for the European Athletic Indoor Championships.
John qualified for the Indoors only last Sunday week when finishing third at the Irish Life Health Elite Micro Meet at the National Indoor Arena.
The event, which received Government approval via the Sport Ireland Expert Group, saw athletes compete for European Indoor qualification, as well as Category E World Ranking points for all those working towards Tokyo qualification.
John, of course, was competing at 800m level, his no. 1 distance and in a blistering race, won by Mark English, three-time European 800 metre medalist from Finn Valley AC, who just shaded it from Longford's 18-year-old sensation, Cian McPhillips with John close by in third spot; on that running, all three were named for this week's European Indoors which takes place on Friday and Saturday.
Mark English broke the tape in 1.46.10, a mere .03 of a second ahead of McPhillips, who broke a host of records at his age group, with John Fitzsimons third in 1.46.13, a personal best from the Kildare man.
What makes John Fitzsimons’ run all the more remarkable is the fact it was his first 800m race in almost 18 months — an achilles injury keeping him sidelined.
“I got back in time to put in a good block of training but I am now hoping to drive on over the next couple of months; I will give this week's championships a good run but after that I would like to push on again, staying injury-free of course.
“I was hopeful going into last weekend's race but did not really know what to expect but knowing it was my last chance to qualify for Poland — the closing date was the next day — so I gave it everything and am delighted to have been chosen on the team.”
From Rowanville Terrace in Kildare town, John has already taken home a bronze medal from the European U20 Championships back in 2017 and two years later reached the final of the Under 23 Championships held in Sweden.
John recalls that Under 23 final, “I just ran out of juice in the last 100 or so; there was a bit of a dust-up for the bronze medal and I think I missed out by something like less than a half a second in the end.”
As a youngster John recalls his dad, John snr, going to train at Kildare AC every Tuesday and Thursday keeping an eye on what was going on and while he played football with Round Towers “I always felt athletics would be my sport.”
While John competed in the Community Games it was running for the club in the county leagues every year where he really got the love for the sport. However “the first time I believed I could be decent was when I won a national title at Under 16 level; before that I had not done a whole lot but that win gave me the inspiration to give it a real go.”
John is studying Sports Rehabilitation and Athletic Therapy in IT Carlow, now in his final year and has high praise for Carlow who have been very accommodating to him over the last few years.
“I have been on scholarship from my first year there and between helping me out with facilities, access to the gym and accommodating me all the time, they have been very good to me,” adding “I will start to see the other side of things now once I finish there.”
In many ways John is fortunate that he trains locally, Carlow is just down the road while he also has use of the national facilities.
“My usual week would consist of three workouts; a long run and the rest is just easy running; the workouts would include one endurance; plus, of course a few days in the gym.”
John trains on a loop around Kildare Village, “I do a lot of the long stuff there and the then back in January I got access to the national indoor arena so I go up to the track there, at the moment I go once a week for the faster sessions and the rest is then just a mix around the Curragh and Kildare town; very fortunate that I have the Curragh within 5km range.”
John has been under the watchful coaching eye of Joe Ryan since 2015. Joe is based in Mullingar with Mullingar Harriers Athletic Club. “He (Joe) has been very good to me; very committed and while I have had a lot of injuries and stuff he stuck by me and hopefully I am now coming out of the other side of it now. Joe is a good man; very knowledgeable; as well as coaching the Harriers athletes, he also looks after a handful of others, including Cian McPhillips who was second in my final last week.”
Cian had a very impressive run last week, says John, “he is going really well and I hope he can put in a good performance this week; his is young, doing his Leaving Cert this summer but is a very clever lad; a very cool customer.”
The Ireland athletes fly out to Poland on Wednesday with heats starting Thursday followed by the semi finals and final on Sunday.
And what does this young Kildare man expect to gain from Poland?
“As long as I put in a strong performance I will be content, regardless. Ideally I would like to get to the semi final; get myself in the right place in the race and then see if I can get myself into the final; but you never know really; I could be drawn in a very tough heat but I am generally a strong championship racer; going in very confident and have to ensure I don't disappoint myself.”
No doubt this championship will be somewhat different from previous championships what with covid restrictions, testing and everything else.
“These could be quiet different” admits John, “can't imagine there'll be much walking around the hotel or anything like that; keeping myself occupied will be difficult but really looking forward to it at this stage.”
John, of course also his eye fixed on the Olympics (if they are even held in 2021) but his aim is to qualify. There are two ways of qualifying; one is by time standard but now there is also a second method, providing that the quota is not met by the time standard there is a ranking method.
“I will certainly give the time a go, but if that doesn't happen I would like to think, providing I can put together a few good results, my ranking would hopefully get me there.
“The ranking time span ends the end of June and I would need five good performances (the one last week would be one) and if I can put in a couple of good performances this week they would tick a few more boxes and take the pressure off, and then another few in May or June would get me over the line.”
That's all for the future of course but this weekend is all about Poland; all about the European Indoor Championships.
John has done remarkably well to get himself selected, all things considered, but as he says himself he is generally a strong championship racer; going into it with confidence and hoping for the best.
We wish John well in Poland but, one way or another, and regardless of his this week pans out, there is no doubt we will be hearing a lot more of the Kildare town man in the months and years to come.