Elsa Desmond: “It Would Be A Luxury Not To Have To Worry About Funding”

Ireland’s first Olympic luge competitor Elsa Desmond works as a doctor while also being a self-funded athlete. She has been named as one of Team Ireland’s flagbearers for the upcoming Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

Elsa Desmond: “It Would Be A Luxury Not To Have To Worry About Funding” Elsa Desmond: “It Would Be A Luxury Not To Have To Worry About Funding”
Alanna Cunnane

A dream was ignited opposite the snow-cast TV screen in Elsa Desmond’s living room in 2006, the Winter Olympics providing her first glance at what would later become an “obsession.”

Luge. The sport where athletes lie on flat sleds and proceed to slide through a course at speeds of around 140 km an hour.

10 years on she first threw her hat at participating in the sport, and while she competed for Team GB as a junior, the girl with Cavan and Cork paternal grandparents later decided to pledge allegiance to Ireland.

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It wasn’t an easy undertaking however, but with the support of her family the now 24-year-old not only qualified for the Olympics, but also established the Irish Luge Association in the process.

This Friday at the opening ceremony (11:30am Irish time), herself and skier Brendan Newby lead the record six strong team into the Beijing 2022 Games as flagbearers, Desmond the inaugural person to represent Ireland in the sport.

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 “If you’re the best, someone else can come along and be better, but if you’re the first no one else can take that away. So, it’s amazing to be a part of history” the Buckingham born athlete says.

“I feel like I’m creating something and I hope that other people will follow in my footsteps.”

“When I started the federation I always wanted for it to be more than just me. Now we have a development team and a programme where we are trying to recruit and fund that, so it’s been really nice where we’re trying to strive for something more than what we have now.”

No government funding to date however, Desmond has provided her own funds to get to where she is, supplementary to a Fundly page in which everyone who donated was in with a chance to name her sled.

“Sleddy Mcsledface” may have won out, but what is left wanting is more financial support.

“I definitely think it would be a luxury not to have to worry about funding, but I think it’s just part of being an athlete from a small nation” she says.

“It would be lovely not to have the stress, but I have been incredible lucky that my family are able to support me when I don’t have money which is generally the end of every season.”

“I really do appreciate anyone that has supported me because I genuinely wouldn’t be here without them” she added.

Qualifying for the Olympics a cycle ahead of schedule, the outing proposes to be a “trial run” for the NHS doctor, who first lines out at 11:50 am (Beiijng time) on Monday.

Having attended the last quadrennial competition’s opening affair in South Korea, she expects the fanfare that precedes her Luge escapades to be an emotional expedition.

“Last time I cried so much and I wasn't even in it” she joked.

"It really drove me to want it so much more.”

"I saw that in the opening ceremony, all these countries putting forward what they’ve got and the best people they have and coming together for what everyone loves. I think there’s something beautiful in that and I always have.”

"I don’t know if I’m going to cry when I’m actually walking out because it’s going to be a lot, but once we’ve gotten around to the other side of the stadium, I’ll have tissues ready."

"I think a lot of the emotions will come out in a few weeks' time, when I'm home."

Returning back home and back to work in Southend hospital by the 12th of February Desmond just hopes she can put on a good performance at her debut Games.

“I don’t think I can put into words how excited I am to lead out the team.”

“I really hope that when it comes to the races later in the week I can focus, relax, slide how I know I can, and make my country proud.”

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