She was World Champion over 60M hurdles in 2006 and followed that with four more podium finishes at major indoor and outdoor European and World Championship events in 2006, 2009, 2010 and last year in Gothenburg.
Along the way she set Irish records in all her events and represented Ireland at three Olympic Games.
Not only was she a star on the track but her personality and smile off it made her a highly sought after brand ambassador away from it as well.
Spar, Mitsubishi and Powerade all benefitted from their association with the Cork star but it is likely that her greatest impact on Irish sport may yet be ahead of her.
The transition from star athlete can be very challenging, especially so after twelve years on the training treadmill and in the public spotlight. O’Rourke though is one who has been thinking about it for some time.
She writes a popular regular column for the Irish Examiner and has used that as a platform for the kind of spiky commentary on athlete welfare and funding that meant she was sometimes seen by administrators as being ‘hot to handle’ as well as an invaluable advocate for the sport.
When Sport for Business set about nominating the 40 most influential women in Irish sport, O’Rourke was one of the first on the list.
In citing her we wrote:
Derval O’Rourke earns her place on this list because of a combination of what she has achieved on the track in a succesful athletics career and for the waves she makes with her view on Women’s sport and athlete welfare.
A three time Olympian and seven time medallist at major competitions, the highlight of her career to date was winning Gold in the World Indoor Championships in 2006.
She missed out on another medal seven years later, last year in Gothenburg by 0.01 of a second but subsequently had her placing upgraded due to a doping disqualification for one of the athletes that beat her.
While still competing at the top level she has also secured a platform for intelligent analysis of sport from the inside via a weekly column in the Irish Examiner. Doping in athletics has cost her some glory moments and she is an advocate of more research into the long term impact of drug taking so as to build a stronger case for never taking drugs in the first place.
Trusted and confided in by many other athletes, O’Rourke’s influence is already greater than would be the case as a focused athlete and promises to become greater in the years to come.
That final line suggests that while a break from the track may be followed by a period of readjusting to life in the outside world, it is very unlikely we have heard the last fresh thinking from her.
Rest assured that as we continue our campaign for parity of esteem for Women’s sport there will be plenty of opportunities to help build a lasting impression on others just as she built for herself since 2002.