‘Flash’ is the last word you’d use to describe the polite, soft-spoken Aileen Morrison. Such is her talent and dedication in triathlon, her progress from Ireland’s best to world-beater may not be very far away.
Steering her VW Golf smoothly through mid-morning Dublin traffic, Aileen Morrison’s driving is, like her car, sensible and understated. No drama, no rush, a picture of tolerance and courtesy as she politely works her way from a swim-session photo call at Dublin City University to a press meeting in a docklands hotel. The road is unfamiliar and she defers willingly to the locals until one urban cowboy with a taxi plate tries to barge in out of turn. His mistake. Morrison immediately flicks her wrist and lets out a cry of exclamation, in an accent heavily marinated in the River Foyle. Morrison is no pushover, but she hasn’t always been this way. A fixture in the top 10 of the International Triathlon Union’s rankings, Aileen Morrison has had to learn to fight her corner in the highly charged atmosphere of top professional sport.
“Women’s racing can be really bitchy,” she admits, in her jaunty Derry lilt. “Sometimes it’s not intentional and other times it’s just that some girls will just keep swimming and keep swimming, no matter whether they swim on top of you. They don’t really care. Or, if you got in their way, they’d pull you back. If they thought they were going to gain from that, they would [do it].”
“In a race in Portugal, a girl kept swimming into me, hitting me and stuff, and I was thinking, ‘Get out of my way, this isn’t good for us here.’ She ended up pulling my leg and I said, ‘Right, you’re not getting away with that,’ so I pulled her back. Then she got my head and dunked me underwater, and I nearly lost my goggles. But that’s what happens.”
born: June 15 1982, from: Derry, lives: Lisburn
Series race results: 2nd - Madrid 2012, 4th - Yokohama 2011, 3rd - Hamburg 2010
A few days before Morrison meets The Red Bulletin, she had produced her, and Ireland’s, best ever result in the ITU World Series, with a fighting second place, just three seconds behind Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig, in Madrid. A breakthrough result, albeit one tempered with the understanding that four higher-ranked athletes gave the Spanish event a miss, it nonetheless showed what Morrison is capable of.
Still on a high after her Madrid podium, the 30-year-old is bubbly and carefree, with an undertone of quiet composure. Any loosening of inhibitions by podium champagne has passed. She’s relaxed and confident, and apart from the little traffic management episode, her most animated moment of the whole morning is when she describes her irritation at a recent newspaper article suggesting that her performances make her a favourite for titles and trophies. ‘Not yet’ is the party line.
“I don’t like to think about numbers and placings and things like that because I’m going to try and do as best as I can do,” she says. “Whether that gets me a top-15 or a top-10 performance, I’m going to be happy as long as I know that on the day I did everything I can to get me that performance.
“I do think that on a good day, doing everything right, I’m capable of a top 10. If luck falls on my side, I know I could squeeze a bit more in there. I have won medals in the past at world level, so it’s not to say it’s impossible to do that again.”
Read the full story in July's issue of The Red Bulletin.