The Malta Independent 22 January 2022, Saturday

The Story of Carol Galea

Malta Independent Tuesday, 15 June 2004, 00:00 Last update: about 9 years ago

Carol Galea became well known in local sport in the early 1990s, especially in the Small Nations Games in Malta in 1993.

But it is interesting to note that it was at a third attempt that she took up athletics to build such an illustrious career.

She told me that as an 11-year-old, she used to play tennis. “I was crazy because I used to train for six hours a day. I always liked sport and my father encouraged me a lot, even though my mother was keen on my studies, which I had to make sure I did not abandon.

“After some years, I changed to table-tennis and was selected for the national team. We used to train at least five hours a day either at Mount Carmel College or at the Overseas Club in Valletta,” she explained.

Carol added: “Never having been a runner, I only started taking athletics seriously when my two boys, Jeremy and Chris, were still toddlers. I used to run 25 laps at the university track every day. There was often only archer Joanna Agius doing her training and myself running laps of the track, those days.

“I had no coaching whatsoever. One day, in 1987, I read an advert. in a newspaper for a fun-run in Bugibba and decided to take part. Despite not having proper running shoes, I managed to win. I was so encouraged with that result that I joined the Ladies Running Club. From then on, I never looked back.

“In 1990, I began to improve quickly, especially following some advice from John Walsh, who was already coaching other members of the Ladies Running Club. He helped me a lot and I owed much of my rapid improvement to him. I began to learn how to train for different events and, just as importantly, how to avoid injuries.

“Previously, my training had consisted of just pushing as hard as I could in training every day. With the improvement in coaching, I started breaking local records at all distances. In the 1993 Games in Malta I registered what was then a national record in the 800m, running 2:15, and I also clocked (another national record) a very satisfying 4:33 in the 1,500m in the Barcelona Olympics.

“That was my first ever international competition. At first, then MOC president Dr Gino Camilleri seemed unsure about my inclusion since I had no previous international experience, but when I told him that I would relish the opportunity and would not be intimidated by the occasion, he accepted me in the squad,” she explained.

Carol said she continued to work harder and harder and it was no surprise that more records fell in her upward path. As she explained in detail: “In 1994 at Marsa, I ran 9:37 in the 3,000m. A year later, I clocked 16.43 in the 5,000m – both national records.

“In 1996 in Florence, Italy, I lowered my existing marathon national best to 2:36.53. A year later, in Watford, England, I clocked 34.25 in the 10,000m record.

“That year (1997) was the best in my career, so far. Everything went right for me. I ran a national best of 1:14.19 in the Malta Half Marathon in February and won gold and silver in the Small Nations Games in Iceland. I then followed Iceland with a silver medal nine days later in the Mediterranean Games in Bari.”

Galea said she has turned down invitations to take part in events, both at home and abroad. “If I am not fully fit or well-prepared for the occasion, I will not participate. I have had my share of disappointment, and days when things just don’t go as planned, and will not now accept an invitation if I am not very confident of my physical preparation,” she stated.

Carol also made what she saw as a very important point for the good of sport in Malta. “I have always been very keen on sport, since my schooldays. Yet, it is now generally accepted that an inborn genetic talent for long-distance running will not show itself in the sort of events given to young athletes at school. Really, I feel there must be many talented individuals who are capable of going on to succeed as senior athletes who are just not being spotted early enough. Why did I have to wait till I was 28 years old for someone to tell me I was good at long-distance running? That’s a terrible waste. Imagine if I had been training hard as a teenager what I might have achieved!

“I really would like to see a talent identification scheme being implemented across all schools in Malta. It would really only require certain simple physical tests in the form of events that could be included in the normal curriculum and done twice yearly. The results from these would be forwarded to experienced sports scientists and analysed.

“The talented athletes would shine and those youngsters could be groomed from an early age for selected sports. As it was (and still is), I was never given any indication that I actually had a talent for sport. I had to wait till I was 28 years old, and, if events had not happened as they did, I would have been lost for all time to Maltese athletics which would surely have been a loss to both me, and the sport.”

Overall, however, she has had many more successes than disappointments in her career. “I have run 12 marathons so far, the first being in Rotterdam, Holland, in 1994. There, I clocked two hours and 40 minutes and finished 11th female. It was a very good time and I remember John (Walsh) was very excited as it was an excellent debut time.

“In 1996, I reduced it to 2.36 hours in Florence. That remains my marathon personal best, though I still feel there is more to come. Even now, I still believe I can slice a bit more off that marathon time. So many factors have to come together: many months of training, my health, the route, the weather on raceday... I still have unfinished business with the marathon.”

Despite everything, Galea insists she is still fit enough to continue with her successful career. “I have no intention of quitting. I can think of absolutely no reason to stop. I am that fortunate person who has found their exact niche in life. Why should I stop? I love running and racing. I intend having another go at improving my marathon time, as well as taking another crack at the Commonwealth and Mediterranean Games. At the Small Nations Games, I still have lots to offer as the standard in those Games is not so high,” she added.

Galea dislikes running in built-up areas every day, and is happy she lives close to the countryside and can head off into the hills away from the busy traffic.

“When I take part in an event abroad, it is no joke. Far from being a holiday. Of course I feel responsibility. I am often put under pressure as everyone has certain expectations about what I will achieve and I am forever aware of my obligation to my coach and my country. And not least to myself: to justify with a personally satisfying performance, all the months and miles I have spent in preparation,” she stated.

Asked for the most memorable moment of her career, she quickly replied: “Finishing second in the Mediterranean Games in Bari and being awarded the silver medal. Considering we ran in the peak of summer, at 10am with a temperature rising to 36C and finished at around 12.30pm under a baking sun, I think it was my greatest feat.

“Another was my becoming the first person to win a gold medal for athletics at the Small Nations Games. That was in the Iceland Games in 1997. I had won the 5,000m convincingly and the following day, I took part in the 1,500m where I also won silver,” she said.

Yet more highlights: “I mustn’t forget Valladolid, Spain, where I won the veterans (over 35) world championship for the Half Marathon. There were the top athletes from all over the world taking part and I won. I really never expected it.”

Talking about the Small Nations Games, mention was made of former MOC sports director Pippo Psaila. She said of him: “He was tough in a sense, but extremely fair. I really admired him. I needed his resolve, his toughness and his encouragement. He proved to be such a good administrator, even though, at times, he would apply the pressure if he thought we needed it. He will be missed.”

Galea said it was a pity that in Malta everything seems to stop for a year in between every Games’ edition. “Our athletes need continuity. There are just a few who maintain the rhythm, but many of the youngsters need to be continuously encouraged to remain dedicated to the sport. There are so many distractions in life for teenagers – easier things to be doing than training every day. We risk losing them and we are already so few. In my opinion, we should not wait till January 2005 to start preparing for next year’s edition in Andorra,” she added.

For the record, Carol started her medal trail at the Small Nations Games with two bronzes in the Malta edition in 1993. Two years later, she won a bronze in Luxembourg, followed by a gold and silver in Iceland. In 1999, her participation in Liechtenstein was disastrous, but she threw herself back into training and recovered with two silver medals in 2001 at San Marino. Her haul was topped by a gold medal for the 10,000m at the Malta Games in 2003.

Carol has also obtained a number of creditable results in international competitions.

As she explained: “In 1996, I was second in the Florence marathon. In 1997, I won the Dublin marathon and finished second in the Bari marathon (silver medal – Med. Games). In 1998 and 1999, I was second in the Dublin event and fourth in 2000.

“I was also fourth in the Stockholm marathon in 2001 and seventh at the Commonwealth Games, though I feel I could have done better had it not been for a nutritional error on my part. I have also won the Malta Half-Marathon a record 13 times – I missed this year’s event through injury.”

Throughout her glorious career, Carol has run 257 races, 48 of them international events abroad. She achieved a Master’s standard of performance (over 1,000 points) for her efforts in the 5,000m in Malta in 1995, and for the Rotterdam and Florence marathons.

Throughout her career, she has competed against some of the world’s top women athletes. “It is impossible to remember all the names. Those who spring to mind immediately are Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O’Sullivan of Ireland and Marian Sutton and Yvonne Murray of the UK,” she said.

Such an illustrious career, I am sure, will not stop anytime soon, as Carol has said. Indeed, as the interview ended, Carol left for a morning training session, running along the Qawra-Bugibba coast road – an exemplary athlete who believes in “Never say never”.

Carol Galea – a profile

Date of birth: 24th October 1962.

Education: After obtaining her O levels, she worked as a clerk with a German company.

More recently, she qualified as a health and fitness instructress at the ITS and obtained a diploma as a general instructress at Oxford and Cambridge in the UK.

Sporting career: She started at the age of 11, playing tennis. Later she took up the game of table-tennis and was also a national team player. That was followed by an illustrious athletics career (since 1987) in which she is still very active and hopes to remain so in future.

During these years she has won numerous honours, the best being the silver medal at the Mediterranean Games in Bari, Italy. She also won the Dublin marathon once and has won eight medals – two gold, three silver and three bronze – at the Small Nations Games since the 1993 edition in Malta.

She also won the veterans (over 35) world championship gold medal for the Half Marathon, in Valladolid, Spain. In 2001, she also won the European championship for veterans when the event was held in Malta, at Bugibba. Galea has registered a record 13 Malta Half-Marathon wins. Moreover, she was twice winner of the Mediterranean Half Marathon in 2001 and 2003, held every year in Mondello, outside Palermo, Sicily.

In the Iceland Games in 1997, she also became the first Maltese to win a gold medal in athletics.Awards: She has been awarded the national award Qadi tar-Repubblika and has been voted Sportswoman of the Year on no fewer than seven occasions.

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