Winter Olympics 2014: Wilf O'Reilly's Sporting Life

Wilf O'Reilly

Wilf O'Reilly is a former British short track speed skater. He won two gold medals in the 500m and 1000m events at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, but was denied full Olympic acclamation because short track was a demonstration event.

O'Reilly won the World Championship in Sydney in 1991 and then went on to compete in both events at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. He was a member of the ISU Short Track Speed Skating World Cup management commission and is part owner of one of the Netherlands' largest skating schools. He talks to Get Inspired about his sporting life.

I was a happy-go-lucky kid. I wasn't the best at school. I had to work really hard, always gave 100% but I wasn't academic. I was very active in sport, I played football, cricket and tennis.

My skating career didn't start on the ice. My mum bought me my first pair of inline skates when I was about eight. It gave me a terrific feeling of freedom outside.

John Curry winning Olympic gold in 1976 really inspired me. It was a natural transition from inline skating to ice, as the first time I went ice skating I was good and could do it.

I wanted to be more competitive, more rough and tumble. Although figure skating gave me a grounding, it didn't give me the thrill. The Birmingham Mohawks had a great speed skating team.

It is thanks to one of my friends that I even tried speed skating. He wanted to become a member of the Mohawks but you had to skate three laps in 40 seconds. He made the grade and said I should try. I was so nervous about failing this first part of my skating career. I remember the starter calling us to the line. I made the time, made the grade.

My teacher wasn't impressed with my junior skater of the year award. But that made me really determined to show him.

At the 1988 Winter Olympics, I fell in my first event, the 1500m. I didn't want to skate the next day but my coach Archie Marshall found me in the laundrette and said I would win the 500m - and I did.

I went to bed with my gold medal under the pillow. I remember waking up the next morning putting my hand under my pillow to check it was still there.

For the 1000m medal ceremony, I was next to ski jumper Matti Nykanen and skier Alberto Tomba. I couldn't believe I was between these two stars. There were 60,000 people and a friend of mine and his mother were stood at the front, holding a Union Jack and saying: "Well done Wilf."

I had no idea of the impact my gold medals would have. When I came home to Birmingham, I got into a black taxi and the driver told me I didn't have to pay. Then at the rink there was a banner saying "Welcome home Wilf."

My girlfriend broke her neck. It was just before the 1994 Games in Lillehammer and was a devastating moment of my skating career. It brought back into perspective what is really important: your health.

The 1994 Olympic Games were an experience I'd like to forget. My blade broke in the 500m heats and I was not allowed to change it. It was one of those freak accidents that happen.

Sport has taught me how to deal with disappointment. It has also given me an incredible amount. I've met Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher and I've visited 10 Downing Street - all these weird and wonderful experiences. If it can happen to this lad from Birmingham, it can happen to anybody.

Short-track speed skating

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