On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Sochi Olympics the Russian International Olympic University submits this Q&A with one of its already accomplished students, Irish kickboxing world champion Catherine O’Grady.
One of the “Potanin Foundation Scholars” on this year's RIOU Masters course, she reflects on the impact of the university on her career as well as her love of sport.
Founded to become one of the legacies of the Sochi Olympics, the RIOU is in the middle of its second academic class. The students come around the world, training as the next generation of administrators and managers for the global sports industry.
Asking the questions on behalf of the RIOU is staff member Irina Sizova.
IS: Catherine, it’s hard to believe someone so slim and feminine practises a sport like kickboxing. How did you take it up?
My father, Jim Farrell, is a kickboxing coach. He got all of my seven brothers and I hooked on kickboxing. I started at 4 years old. By the age of 12, I competed with the Irish national team in the world championships, and it helped me understand what it’s like being part of a close-knit team. When I turned 18, I won the adult world championships in Spain. Some people think combat sports are not suitable for women, but I completely disagree as you compete with girls just like yourself; you show your strength, agility and stamina – like in any other sport. In Ireland this sport is getting increasingly popular with young women.
IS: - You stopped competing for a year to study at RIOU; why?
- My father may be a coach but he always put education first. So, I combined training and competing in international events with doing a degree course in sports medicine in Dublin. The offer to study in Russia came from the Irish National Olympic Committee. European sports officials value the quality of training that the Olympic University in Sochi provides. I grabbed the opportunity at once. When my sporting career is over, I’d like to be involved in organising mega events, such as the Olympic Games.
IS: - What are your impressions of RIOU?
- I really enjoy studying in Sochi. RIOU offers excellent learning conditions - better than many top European universities. There’s a state-of-the-art
Catherine O'Grady (back row 2nd from right) with some of her RIOU MSA fellow students at the Sochi FI event in 2014
campus with top international professors teaching technical content that can be applied immediately in your career. The modules we have covered so far include relations with governmental agencies and marketing in the sports industry; I find the political aspects of sport especially interesting. My final research project will focus on athletes’ transition from amateur into professional sport.
RIOU has an amazing library and information centre where we can access any materials we need. The staff here are always helpful. At RIOU they specialise in on-the-job training. For example, our theoretical knowledge in sports marketing was reinforced by working with the Formula 1 Organising Committee here in Sochi!
And that was great: I not only had a placement during a mega event but discovered a new sport and made lots of friends. We are just like a family here. One of my fellow students, Chinese skater Changyu Ma, taught me to skate. I also tried alpine skiing for the first time in my life at Rosa Khutor. So, studying here is really exciting!
IS:- And what do you think of Sochi?
- It’s an amazing, friendly city! Whilst it is small and peaceful, you never get bored. This weekend we’re going to skydive at Skypark. Another first for me! I’m sure I’ll miss Sochi when I finish my course at RIOU.
IS: - What are you planning to do when you return to Ireland?
- After RIOU I will compete again and my first competition is in August 2015. So I’m still training here but because of a leg injury I can only do gym work, yoga and swimming right now, but I’ll be running again soon. I will also apply my RIOU knowledge in my coaching at a kickboxing club in Ireland. When I stop competing, I will begin my dream job of getting involved in organising the Olympics.
IS: - Finally Catherine, who are your sporting heroes and do you have any advice for young athletes making their first steps in sport?
- A key role model for me is Michael Phelps. I also admire Katie Taylor, Irish boxing world champion, and Russian boxer Sofya Ochigava, a medallist at the London 2012 Games.
And to young athletes, I can only say one thing: you should not forget why you took up sport in the first place, despite all the hard work, tiredness and injuries. You should always remember that you started sport because you enjoy it!
Irina Sizova conducted this interview on behalf of the RIOU for Around the Rings.