Meet Ireland Winter Olympic ace Elsa Desmond who set up the Irish Luge Federation in bid for sport to grow

HEAR the one about the athlete who set up their own sporting body to compete at the Olympics?

That is what Irish luge ace Elsa Desmond did to realize her dream of wearing a green vest in Beijing.

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Elsa Desmond was crucial in the establishment of Irish Luge Federation
The Olympic Federation of Ireland today launched the Winter Sports Strategy which is calling for a structured approach to supporting winter sports and athletes in Ireland

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The Olympic Federation of Ireland today launched the Winter Sports Strategy which is calling for a structured approach to supporting winter sports and athletes in Ireland

The 24-year-old was 33rd at the Games, fulfilling an ambition she had ever since watching the 2006 Turin Olympics as an eight-year-old growing up in England.

Many eight-year-olds have aims that they have forgotten by the time they are nine. But not Desmond who did not let the little detail that no one would let her on a sled stop her.

She explained: “I was very wee, and I thought it looked amazing.

“And it was very difficult to get into the sport because Ireland had no federation and GB wouldn’t take me because I was too young, and there were no facilities anyway.”

The adopted Irishwoman reckons her parents thought it just a phase, though they were supportive when, as a teenager, she paid to join a camp at a British military base.

Desmond revealed: “I tried every sport under the sun and got bored of it and I think they thought it would be like that.

“But it was one that sort of stuck, one I always wanted to try and, once I tried it, we were playing the long game, they knew quite quickly I wasn’t giving this one up.

“From the first day, I managed to get on a sled and I realized from the first day sliding I loved it.

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“That was through paying to be a civilian at a British military camp. I was a teenage girl in this group of guys.

“They did look after me very well but it was quite daunting going there by myself, I didn’t have anyone with me.

“I got into the GB system as a junior and done a season with a seniors.
“But they had a change of coaching, and structural differences between junior and senior, and it didn’t fit with me.”

She decided to switch allegiance as her father is from Cavan.

But there was the slight problem of Ireland not having a federation.
The only option was to set one up herself.

The sledding star said: “I’d been in touch with the president of the Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation to discuss that we couldn’t be part of the same federation.

“We were progressing things with the International Luge Federation but not on the Irish side. We just weren’t contacting the right people, or looking in the right place. “

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It was then her mother Martha got an email address for Olympic Federation of Ireland CEO Peter Sherrard.

Desmond said: “She wrote, ‘My daughter wants to go the Beijing Olympics. She races in Luge. She’s done these World Cup races. We want to set up this federation. Can you help? ‘ And Peter said – I’ve spoken to him about it since – that he thought it was something that would fizzle out, one email and it wouldn’t go anywhere.

“Little did he know we’d actually go to the Beijing Olympics and we would be looking at Milan.”

The Irish Luge Federation is now a fully fledged organization with funds to help juniors compete.

Its founder said: “We wanted to begin a federation that would be sustainable, not just fizzle out. We made the decision to move across a year before it was set up.

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“You have to sit out a year to switch, and I did that before we founded the federation which was quite a scary experience.

“But with the support of my family, it took us 15 months and we got the permission of the IOC, International Luge Federation, and are fully incorporated and registered – a lot of paperwork.”

With the right to represent Ireland sorted, Desmond still had the tough task of qualifying for the Olympic Games.

She added: “I think over the last four years, we’re talking around € 100,000.

“And that’s the bare minimum with me doing 26-hour drives from Latvia to Austria, that’s me stopping over stupid places on flights because it’s cheaper, staying in hostels and stuff.”

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She hopes that the OFI support for getting winter athletes Government grants can help in future, particularly for junior prospects.

Desmond said: “I was aware when I started this sport that there was this financial burden. But for juniors, it’s incredibly important.

“I founded this federation but I want it to continue. I don’t want it to die with me. And financial stability allows them to compete on the circuit, to get subsidies.

“Because you don’t get subsidies if you’re not racing. And hopefully then they can continue. For me, financial support helps. But for them, it could be the difference between getting on the ice or not. “
Desmond made it to Beijing and still cannot believe it happened.

The Olympian added: “It was amazing, a dream come true. To any athlete who has devoted their life to getting to that point, it’s the pinnacle of your career.

“Finishing that first run with a personal best, and seeing the Irish support team cheering, it was probably the best moment of my life.

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“The whole experience was good. It makes you want to work harder and make it to Milan where I hope I can have my family there. “

Desmond, a qualified doctor who fits training in around her work before taking four months off in the winter to compete, admitted that crowds in Milan will make it extra special.

She added: “My family don’t come to watch my races, my mother and step father have been to one race in my career, and my dad has never been to a track.

“I travel on my own so I’m not used to having my family there, so if there were in Beijing it could have been stranger.

“So maybe it was a positive because I wasn’t more nervous. Now having done an Olympics, I can go to Milan and say ‘OK, I’ve done the Olympics, now the only difference is my family are here’. “

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