Griffin's Winter Games quest

December 1, 2009

The world-renowned Killarney oarsman was regarded as one of the top rowers in the world, but has swapped water for snow as he embarks on a career as a cross-country skier.

The Fossa man makes no secret of the fact that following last year’s Beijing Olympics, his love affair with rowing – one that had seen him become Kerry’s first two-time Olympic oarsman – had started to show cracks.

Griffin knew it was time to step back from the sport.

Suddenly, the 29-year-old had too much spare time on his hand. But that’s where cross-country skiing came in to rescue the day.

When he was training with the Irish lightweight fours, Griffin was introduced to the snow sport and he took an instant attraction to it.

Whilst in Beijing Olympic Village he approached the OCI’s Chief Executive Stephen Martin, and expressed his interest to take a break from rowing and attempt to qualify for Vancover 2010 in cross country skiing. Martin arranged for Griffin to be tested by experts in Sweden, and once positive reports came through the OCI awarded him a Vancouver Olympic Scholarship to assist with training, competition and coaching costs. From there Rory Morrish ( Turin 2006) and Rolf Haggstrom ( ski coach) have helped Griffin with his technical develpoment, fitness and race strategy.

And in the space of a few months, Griffin has gone from a novice to competing in the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, which were held in Liberec, Czech Republic.

“There are two standards of qualification for the Winter Olympics, which is my goal right now. I want to try and qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics,” Griffin explained.

“The first way of qualifying is by the points system, which is the A standard, but it’s the second one, the B standard, that I will be looking to do well in.

“It’s for those countries that don’t qualify anyone by the points system, then they can elect a skier to represent them providing they have competed in the World Championships and have not scored over 300 points.

“The only reason I took part on Sunday was because if I want to compete in the Olympics then you have to have taken part in a World Championships,” he added.

But the Kerry sports star is not alone as he has joined up with a handful of other Winter Olympic hopefuls in an effort to qualify for Vancouver next year. His Irish rival ,PJ Barron, is also a contender for the Olympic slot.

He has gone from a team sport to an individual one, but as they say, a change is as good as a rest.

“I am competing individually which is different for me because I have been involved in the four in rowing for so long now,” Griffin said.

“Rowing was getting a bit stale for me and I was getting bored with it.

“This is new and it’s like I have found my passion again. This whole experience might not go anywhere, I might not qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics but it’s something that I want to do.

“I know that I am not going to be able to compete with fellas that have been on skies since they were four years of age,” he added.

Griffin dedicated his summer to training specifically for cross-country skiing, and will do a lot of land work, and this change of sports will lead some to believe that he is finished with rowing.

That’s not the case. The door is not entirely closed, as the Fossa man stresses.

“I’m just going to do this for a while and I am not going to make any decisions as regards to rowing and the 2012 Olympics,” Griffin said.

“I still have a desire to compete at the very top and I think the big thing by turning to skiing is that I have to try and compress what I learned in 14 years with rowing into just 14 months with this.

“I have a good engine, which is there, but I have to learn the technical aspects of this sport, like learning to go downhill and go cross-country in big groups without getting swallowed up or falling.”

One big advantage that Paul has is that he can call on a whole career of professional training, and his base fitness is an ideal platform from which to build on.

“The big attraction was that I have 16 years of endurance training in me – training seven days a week – and this sport is all about endurance,” he said.

“In skiing, I might go up a four-minute hill drive, go down and flatten out – that might feel like I am at the end of a rowing race, but there will be another hill a few minutes later, so it’s very tough.

“It’s a good sport, a hard sport but cross-country skiers are probably the fittest of all the athletes that there are, but I have a good start with all my rowing training.”

And for a man that had started to fall out of love with rowing, the buzz of competing in the Cross Country World Championships  has re-energised him once more.

His passion for sport is back.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” he gushed.

“There were 72 of us at the start, six then pulled out, seven or eight of us got lapped, and I think only 40 finished the race which tells its own story.

“This is a huge cult sport in Europe. There were thousands of supporters there roaring and cheering us on. It was an amazing atmosphere.

“It’s some feeling to speed downhill at 60km per hour but I know that I have a lot of work to do.”

So while one adventure has ended for Paul Griffin, another is in progress and anyone that knows the Killarney man will acknowledge the fact that he will not stop until he achieves his goal, and for now that is qualifying for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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