Katherine Merry picked up a bronze medal in the 400m at the Sydney Olympics back in 2000 and since she has retired she has stayed in athletics working in commentary.
On top of that she is an ambassador for the Special Olympic and she has thrown her support behind the twenty thousand who ran a 10k for the charity over the weekend.
I caught up with her to talk about her work with the Special Olympics as well as her thoughts on medal chances on the track this summer.
- You are an ambassador for the Special Olympics GB so can you tell me a little bit about that and how you got involved?
I have been involved with the Special Olympic for getting on for five years. What the Special Olympics does is it provides children and adults who have intellectual disabilities with year round sports training and competition. So it is completely different from the Paralympics, it is a standalone charity.
It is not elitist it is for any adult or child with intellectual disabilities and they put on year round competitions and programmes. I was asked to be involved with it years ago and I do as much as I can for them.
- The British 10k Powered by Nike is just around the corner so how much are you looking forward to the event?
I have been seven years retired myself and I do no form of exercise now (laughs) I am getting quite lazy so the 10k is probably something that my body can’t handle let alone getting my head around running that far after being a 400m sprinter. I am looking forward do supporting… some of the other ambassadors are running it which is grand.
There’s due to be 20,000 runners to be taking part on Sunday (8th July) and I will be happily supporting and cheering. But it’s going to be a great event because it is so close to the Olympics and everyone is really getting a buzz now that the football is out of the way.
The next big sporting thing on the agenda outside of Wimbledon is the Olympics and it is getting so close. The event has grown so much and it is going to be really exciting.
- As you have just said the Olympics are now just a few weeks away so how excited are you at the prospect of a home Games?
It’s awesome! Since we got awarded the Games, which is seven years ago now, it has just been like ’wow we are going to have the Olympics’ which is just huge.
But everyone is saying that time has just gone so quickly. It’s genuinely exciting now because a lot of the sports are finalising their teams and we are into July and it is a case of ’oh my god it kicks off at the end of this month’ - I don’t know where the time has gone.
But I have found around the whole country that people who weren’t really interested in it are really starting to get the buzz as well and that is nice because we want as many people as possible behind the team and to enjoy the Olympics. But I am really looking forward to it - and in so many sports as well not just my own.
- You are an Olympian yourself, picking up a bronze in Sydney, so what is you abiding memory of those Games when you look back on them now?
I think the general atmosphere and the buzz that Sydney created was a very special one and I don’t think I have spoken to anyone since, who was an athlete, journalist, spectator or official, that didn’t have good things to say.
They seemed to just get everything right and that made it a very relaxed and exciting environment. So I think it was just the general buzz that was around because everything ran so smoothly - no one was complaining about anything because no stone was left unturned.
For me I was involved in a huge race with Australian heroine Cathy Freeman in the women’s 400m. There were 112,000 people inside the stadium that night so that one race was the biggest and most personal thing that I can remember because it was so huge.
- Since retiring you have worked in TV and radio covering Olympics and world championships so how have you found being on the other side of the fence as it were?
Oh I love it; I absolutely love it because I get to stay involved and go to all the events but don’t have to do anything strenuous.
It is really quite nice sitting down and watching people going through the nervous stages and the warming up and the physical demands - I don’t miss it at all (laughs).
It is interesting because over the years I have got to completely see the other side of the fence and it’s a completely different angle that I wasn’t aware of for fifteen or twenty years.
It’s nice to still be involved in the major championships and still have that place in sport where I can have such a close view of some super stuff as well - and that will be the same for the Olympic Games as well.
- Over the past couple of major tournaments such as the world indoors and the world championships in Daegu last summer we have seen some really encouraging performances from Team GB athletes so where do you thing British athletics is at the moment?
It’s in a good place. We had our massive era in the late eighties and nineties where you could reel of ten or fifteen household names in athletics; Steve Cram, Steve Backley, Jonathan Edwards, Kriss Akabusi, Sally Gunnell and that list would go on.
But now we don’t have that it’s more condensed and there are five or six names such as Phillips Idowu, Jess Ennis, Mo Farah and Dai Greene but we do have some others coming through.
This year we have seen the development of Holly Bleasdale in the pole-vault and Robbie Grabarz in the men’s high jump and so all of a sudden we have got two or three more names that are genuine medallists. So I think it is in a really good place.
The biggest haul that we have had at the Olympics in recent years was in Sydney where we had six individual medals and if we get things right in the week of track and field when it comes I don’t see why we can’t challenge that.
So I think it is in a good state because, as you said, the world indoors was successful and last year in Daegu was also pretty good.
We have got people coming through which is exciting - we have got an eighteen year old in the men’s 100m and he has run the second fastest time by a UK junior he’s called Adam Gemilli and he is going to the Olympics and the Word Juniors. So it is exciting and I think that athletics is in a good state.
- So who are you tipping for medals over the summer?
I think the obvious ones are those who did well at the World Championships last summer so Mo Farah, in the 5,000 or 10,000 which ever he wants to do, Jessica Ennis has just broke the UK heptathlon record, finally taking it off Denise Lewis, and she is a big hope.
Then there is Phillips Idowu in the triple jump and Dai Green over the 400m hurdles then the outside chances of Holly Bleasdale and Robbie Grabarz.
They are the big names that are genuine if you look at world rankings and their temperament at major championships and they are capable of performing.
So there are five or six medals but public wise you are not going far past Jessica Ennis, Phillips Idowu and Mo Farah - they could easily win it but they could just as easily come third or fourth such is the depth in their events. None of our British athletes are so far ahead of the rest of the world that it is a foregone conclusion.
- You have done some mentoring of British junior athletes now so how bright is the future of British athletics? And just how big an impact do you expect the London Games to have on the next wave of kids coming through?
I don’t do the mentoring anymore which is disappointing because it was something that I really enjoyed but it was stopped a couple of years ago. It was actually one of the most rewarding things that I have done for a long time because I was able to pass on experience and knowledge on to younger athletes.
What I have found over the last couple of years is that all of those junior athletes have been thinking ‘could I get to London?’ ‘Could I get to 2012?’ but realistically it is a bit too soon for them but they would love to be there - they are now more focused on Rio 2016.
But it’s massive and I am very jealous of all the athletes in all the sports who are getting to take part in a London Games because myself and other retired athletes would have done anything to have had a Games at home.
Seb Coe and his gang have sold the legacy side of the Olympic bid very well and as long as it inspires anybody to get involved in any kind of sport and activity, not just elite sport, that is the big thing that we would like to see.
For the junior athletes it is massive as they will probably never get an inspirational or aspiring time like this again.
- Finally what’s next for you?
I have got a Diamond League meeting that I will be covering for 5Live, which is what I will be doing for the Games. Then I will be down to London for the Olympics and before you know it we will be off and running.
Then I have got a couple of weeks break before I start my commentary work on Channel 4 for the Paralympic Games.
Katharine Merry is an ambassador for Special Olympics GB, the official charity partner of The British 10k powered by Nike+.
Special Olympics transforms the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities everyday across the country. Visit www.specialolympicsgb.org.uk to find a club near you.
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw