Olive walks tall

OLIVE LOUGHNANE was barely off the plane from Beijing last year when she set about planning her onslaught on a medal at this year’s world championships in Berlin.

She had finished seventh in that sensational women’s Olympic 20k walk in which the first 12 all broke the old Olympic record but what amazed her most – apart from her new pb of 1:27:45 – was the fact that she had covered the last 10k quicker than the first half of the race.

That performance told her a lot about herself and provided the platform she needed to take her career to a new level in global terms. Yesterday she reaped rich reward for effort when she claimed Ireland’s fifth medal at the world championships.

Yesterday’s silver may be regarded as something of a surprise but for those close to the 33-year-old Loughrea woman who is married to Martin Corkery and living in Coachford, it was no surprise at all because all her recent performances had medal written all over them.

“I know I was in great shape last year,” she said. “I know that whole race (Beijing) then was a bit of a funny one. My second half was faster so I knew I would be strong over the last 10k here. As well I knew I was training better this year than I was last year.”

She put it all down to a combination of things and not least the help given her by Finbarr Kirwan, the Irish Sports Council’s High Performance Director.

“I sat down with Finbarr Kirwan and the Sports Council and one of the things we identified that we needed was more tactical and technical support,” she said.

Last night Kirwan recalled that meeting. “She is a very methodical person and she certainly knows what she wants and she is not afraid to ask for it,” he said. “We were very impressed with her and she has certainly delivered on her side of the bargain.”

Having decided on that she started working with Montse Pastor Martinez, whose late husband, Manuel, coached Francisco ‘Paco’ Fernandez to a world record, an Olympic silver medal and three world championship silvers before his untimely death two years ago. Yesterday she was in Berlin to watch the race.

“Montse changed my training around a little bit so it took a bit of a leap of faith for it to work – she slowed down my steady stuff and made my fast stuff faster.

“I spoke to her 10 days ago after a really good session and when I had finished I said to her ‘there are not three people in the world who are stronger than me.’”

There was huge support at the Brandenburg Gate yesterday when her husband, Martin, handed her the Tricolour and her father, Matt, and brother, Brendan, cleared the security barriers to join in the celebrations.

“It’s so funny. I always thought I’d break down crying,” she said. “But it has not really sunk in yet.

“Of course nothing would be possible without Martin. There have been tough times; you’ve watched me finish 17th, you’ve watched me get DQ’d in Helsinki, you’ve seen me not finishing Athens but ever since I have had Eimear (her daughter) I have been a bit calmer.”

Was she inspired by the setting? “Not a notion, sorry lads, I’ll come back and have a look at it tomorrow.”

Was it that now there is a tradition of Irish race walking? “Gillian (O’Sullivan) did it before so now there is a tradition of Irish walking. We just believe everything is possible. We have a very professional set-up. I have a great set-up in Ireland, I have a good physio, good physical therapist – Mark Glazier, Martin McCarthy, I have a good doctor in John O’Riordan, I have a good psychologist. That was the advantage of going to Spain to Montse – when I go away training I have a set-up there as well.”

She does not have a problem being a housewife and a mother as well as a world-class athlete.

“I have a beautiful little daughter, Eimear, at home. She is an inspiration in some ways. It makes me feel that while I am really committed to my training and I train really hard, when training is over it’s over,” she said.

“I go away and do my training – I train very well, I am very focused while I train but when training is over then it’s over and I have a whole other wonderful life with my daughter and my husband and the rest of my family.”

She realises she will be under more pressure now but she intends to take in her stride. The Russians are heavily funded and they live together in what she compares to a “boarding school” where everything is done for them. She won’t be losing any sleep over them as she builds up to next year’s European championships in Barcelona or London 2012 for that matter.

“All I can do is my best to stay healthy. I am very lucky in that I tend not to get injured but because I am slight I pick up bugs and stuff. My aim now is to stay healthy,” she said.

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