|Gillick understands something about himself|
IN THE 20 years since leaving the noisy halls of De La Salle Churchtown, some things have changed irreversibly, and some things haven't changed at all. In 1990, we were young and we were the future, although that future didn't stretch beyond watching all of Italia '90. We weren't worried about the job market because, like now, it didn't exist, and although we were going our separate ways we felt no distance could keep us apart.
It still seemed that way when the Class of 1990 met for reunion drinks recently. De La Salle had shaped our destinies beyond all our expectations, and few of us had any complaints about that. What struck me most was the way sport still infiltrated our lives, how we were soon talking about rugby and soccer and the GAA, just like we did behind the old bicycle shed at lunch break. My sport was athletics and that's what gave me an identity, just like it did on our reunion night.
I got talking to Ronan Garvey, who was a sort of sporting All Star in De La Salle - brilliant no matter what the code - and it was no surprise to hear he's currently training for an Ironman triathlon. We agreed to meet for a run in Marley Park, and when we passed the Ballinteer St John's clubhouse he told me a story about David Gillick.
"I used play Gaelic football there with David," he said. "He was an amazing talent. I remember one game, against Stars of Erin, up beside Johnnie Fox's. I was playing centre back, and David was in midfield. He was still a teenager, but all I had to do was lay the ball off to him, and he'd take off up the field, with incredible speed. I felt like I was sitting in an armchair that day. I always thought I was quick, but David Gillick was streaks ahead. I reckon he could have played for Dublin."
Bob Dylan defines destiny as knowing something about yourself nobody else does. There were probably more people telling David Gillick his destiny lay with Gaelic football, not athletics, but he knew something about himself. When he ran 44.77 seconds for the 400 metres last summer, and finished sixth at the World Championships final in Berlin, Gillick knew more than ever he'd chosen the right path. That doesn't mean he won't think about what could have been.
"I loved playing Gaelic football," he told me this week. I called him at his home in Loughborough to talk about his first 400m of the summer, in Rabat, tomorrow - and we ended up talking about other things, about destiny and fate and God's will.
"I loved going down to St John's, and going to school in St Benildus as well gave me a great love of GAA. I don't know, maybe if I'd approached football the same way I did my athletics maybe I would have gone on and done something. I had the speed all right. Sometimes my shooting was a bit wayward (like most Dublin footballers). Though part of me still thinks when I'm done with athletics I'll go back to the football."
There were days back in March when Gillick wondered if he should have stuck with the football all along. He'd gone to the World Indoors in Doha as favourite for gold, but after a barging match with American Bershawn Jackson ended up fifth - and worse still was then disqualified. Maybe that was fate, to keep him fired up for the summer.
"Deep down it cut me up badly," he says. "I was going for the gold medal. That's the reason I ran the final the way I did, attacked from the inside lane. I'd wake up some mornings after and straightaway think, Ah f***. It was a World Championship final. I still believe I was the best athlete out there.
"But then it could have been a lot worse. I could have got injured. All my focus was on the summer anyway. So I had to move in."
Gillick then spent April training in Los Angeles, and while out there heard another American 400-metre runner, LaShawn Merritt, had tested positive. Merritt is no ordinary runner: he's the World and Olympic champion. Yet somehow he allowed himself to test positive (three times) for the steroid DHEA, which Merritt claimed was contained in a male enhancement product, ExtenZe. It doesn't matter what his excuse is, because his destiny now takes in a two-year ban.
"If I have even the slightest head cold I'm on to doctor to know what I can take," says Gillick. "For an Olympic and World champion to say he bought this stuff over the counter just doesn't happen, not at this level. But I was shocked. You always have this idea of drugs in sport, but because I'm out there racing, you can't get too cynical about it, start thinking who's on what. I can't control what they do. All I know is it's one less athlete to worry about."
At 26, Gillick accepts athletics has shaped his destiny beyond all expectations, accepts whatever comes with that, even being the early favourite for next month's European Championships in Barcelona. "As a kid I've always dreamed of being a professional athlete. I'm doing that now. Better people saying I'm the favourite for the Europeans, than saying I've got no chance."
He does occasionally think about how athletics could shape the destiny of others.
"I look around and see how popular rugby is. The participation numbers must have gone through the roof. And when you see the guys playing it, they're huge. I've been around so many meetings now, and I look at the throwers and think I know Irish lads just as big. I'm sure they could get a shot, a discus, or whatever, and make a go of it. Of course there is some skill involved, but there has to be potential there."
That sounds like destiny calling for someone else.
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