The 2016 Summer Olympic Games taking place in Brazil mark the 20th anniversary of the Atlanta Olympics, where current Brandeis University Cross Country/Track & Field Head Coach Sinéad Delahunty Evans made the first of her two Olympic appearances.
"I have been reminiscing a little more about the Olympics this year," Delahunty Evans said. "It is hard to believe it has been 20 years because I remember both races so vividly. I really appreciate the achievement and the opportunity to be able to compete at that level."
Delahunty Evans, who represented Ireland in the 1996 (Atlanta) and 2000 (Sydney, Australia) Olympics, joined the running club Kilkenny City Harriers Athletics Club when she was 10 years old. "I loved racing in local 'field/sports days' during the summer so my parents took my sister and I to the club," she said. "The club system in Europe is brilliant. We competed in everything - there was no specializing at a young age. I ran the 100 meters, 100-meter hurdles, threw the javelin and shot, and did the long jump and high jump. We had a lot of fun running from event to event."
She was a six-time All-America runner at Providence College despite missing the second semester of her final year with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). She competed in the World Junior Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria after her first year at Providence. "I had competed in the three college seasons (cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field), went back home to compete in the National Junior Track & Field Championships and National Senior Track & Field Championships, so by the time I got to Plovdiv, I was a little tired," she recalled. "It was a great experience at the world level, but after that, I did not think about world championships or Olympics. I just focused on competing at the collegiate level."
Delahunty Evans (middle) competing while at Providence College
She established a program record in the indoor 1,000 meters and helped set the indoor and outdoor 4 x 800 meter relay mark as well as the outdoor distance medley relay record. She earned Providence Female Athlete of the Year honors and was later inducted into the Friars' Hall of Fame in 2009.
Delahunty Evans continued to race after graduation and she set her sights on the 1996 Olympics after running a 4:08 in the 1,500 meters in August of 1995. Since she met the qualifying standard, which needed to be achieved between Jan. 1, 1995-Aug. 1, 1996, she focused on finishing in the top-3 at the Ireland National Track & Field Championships. Delahunty Evans placed second to Sonia O'Sullivan, who won the 5,000 meters at the 1995 World Track & Field Championships and later earned a silver medal in the event at the 2000 Olympic Games.
Delahunty Evans crossing the finish line in winning the 1995 Fifth Avenue Mile in New York City
An injury kept Delahunty Evans from competing indoors in 1996, but things went well when she returned to racing outdoors in early May. "My big breakthrough came in Paris when I ran a 4:04.65," she recalled. "That race opened up a lot of other opportunities to get into the big Grand Prix races. That whole season was a breakthrough season and a confirmation that I could compete at an international level."
Competing in the Olympics in Atlanta was the culmination of all her hard work. "The whole experience was amazing," Delahunty Evans stated. "The Olympic Games just have an aura to them. There is a buzz and energy that is not present at any other championship. My favorite part was the camaraderie with the Irish team. It is the one event where you are eating meals and hanging out with athletes from all different sports. When you go to a world track & field championship, it is all track & field athletes. With the Olympics, you get to know other athletes and learn about their journey to the games."
Her journey to the 2000 Olympic Games was much rockier, but perhaps even more fulfilling. She did not have a track season in 1999 between breaking her arm, bad allergies, and allergy-induced asthma that had gotten worse in her late 20's. She returned from her physical setbacks to have an outstanding 2000 indoor season, which included setting the Irish indoor record in the mile (4:30.41, a mark that stood until 2009) and 1,500 meters (4:11.06, a record which still stands).
She also placed fourth in the 1,500 at the European Athletics Indoor Championships. Because the 2000 Olympics were in late September, Delahunty Evans delayed the start of her outdoor season and qualified at her first meet in Barcelona, Spain with a time of 4:05.32 in late July. "Because my health issues killed my 1999 season, I wasn't sure how the 2000 season would go," she said. "To bounce back from a difficult 1999 was really exciting."
Delahunty Evans competing in the Olympics
Competing at the Olympics was vastly different for Delahunty Evans. "I was in brilliant physical shape in 1996, but I definitely let the occasion get to me," she remembered. "I was really nervous before the semifinal and did not follow the tactics we had planned. I knew I was in shape to make the final. Then in 2000, I picked up a virus in early August that I never completely got rid of. I had a lot more confidence in my racing tactics in 2000, but unfortunately was just not fit enough to race to my ability (missing the semifinals by .01 seconds)."
Delahunty Evans was named head coach of men's and women's cross country and track & field at Regis College in 2002 before taking a part-time assistant coach position with her husband, John Evans, at Brandeis in Fall 2010. After her husband left to focus on his job with New Balance in December 2013 after 10 years on the Waltham campus, Delahunty Evans was named "interim" head coach and was named head coach in May 2014.
As a coach, she returned to Atlanta in April 2015 for the UAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. "I had such a different life in 1996 so when we went to Emory for the UAA's, I really did not think about it," she laughed. "In 1996, all I had to do was worry about myself - run, eat, and sleep. Now I have three children, a husband, and 70 student-athletes to worry about!"
Interestingly, she appreciates her achievements more now than she did at the time, which she realized when her eldest son Sean was working on a school project a couple years ago. "When we were going through all my memorabilia and photos, it really hit me what a great achievement it was," she said. "Of course my parents, family, and friends were so proud. It is not to say I did not appreciate it at the time, but athletes are always looking at the next goal and it is only when you look back that you truly appreciate what you did."
"I really try to express to the current student-athletes that I coach to enjoy the journey, enjoy the team, the day-to-day training, goal-setting and racing," she added. "I really enjoyed my journey, I enjoyed training, enjoyed traveling and loved racing. I appreciated the opportunity to do what I did, but it is only now that I really appreciate the achievements."
"I loved my time as an Olympic athlete and cherish the achievements and memories," she concluded. "I also love being a coach now. It is so enjoyable and rewarding helping student-athletes set and achieve their goals."