Olive out to sustain upward mobility

OLIVE LOUGHNANE is ready for the race of her life in tomorrow morning’s women’s 20k walk in Beijing, according to coach Ray Flynn.

The Sligo man, himself a former race walker, was present in Cheboksary the day she made a major breakthrough by breaching an hour and half for the first time.

But it was not just the time — 1:29:17 — that was significant, it was the fact that she finished sixth in what was the most competitive walking race of the year.

The world champion, Olga Kianiskina (Russia), was just one second outside the world record when she won in 1:25:42 from another Russian, Tatyana Sibileva, 1:26:29, with Vera Santos (Portugal) third, 1:28:17 – and all three of them will go to the line tomorrow morning as the Olympic medal favourites.

“The manner in which Olive finished that race was very, very impressive,” said Flynn. “At one point I thought she was gone, but she recovered and fought back in dramatic fashion to finish sixth. Were it not for the experience of Maria Vasco in coming through, she would have been fifth.

“The fact that Olive had used up all of her yellow cards did not help her either because she had to walk with extreme care in those torrid closing stages.”

Hot and humid conditions should not be a problem for Loughnane in Beijing; she has produced most of her best performances in the heat.

She finished very well in Osaka last year when she was coming back after an illness, and she had two other sixth place finishes this year in Catones da Coruna in Spain and Rio Maior in Portugal.

This is her third Olympic Games. She was 35th in Sydney in 2000, and she failed to finish in Athens four years ago due to illness.

Meanwhile, Alistair Cragg faces the moment of reckoning when he lines up for the first heat of the men’s 5,000m today (1.15pm Irish time).

He has avoided all of the big hitters from the top of the list of best performers and, with the first four in each of three heats and the three fastest losers to qualify for the final, he should be capable of getting through — his 13:16.12 from the Golden Spike meet in Ostrava makes him the third fastest in his heat.

“He appears to be in very good form — no complaints at all — so I would be very hopeful of him getting through,” said team manager Patsy McGonagle.

“He has not really performed at a major championships since he won the European indoor 3,000m title in 2005 so, from that point of view, he needs to perform to his potential.

“Hopefully the 1,500m heats on Friday night will have got a lot of the tension out of his system and that he is ready for a good run.

“The morale in the camp is very good at the moment thanks to Paul Hession. I think he gave everyone a much needed lift. Plus, with three boxers boxing for Olympic medals it is not surprising morale is high.”

Thomas Chamney is another athlete hoping to benefit from that morale booster. Today he goes in the first heat of the men’s 800m (12pm Irish time). He will line up alongside the 2004 Olympic champion, Yuriy Borzakovskiy whose seasonal best of 1:42.79 in Monaco a month ago would indicate that he is back to his 2001 best, when he ran 1:42.47.

The world leader and also a gold medal favourite, Abubaker Kaki of Sudan, who ran 1:42.69 in Oslo in June, goes in the second of the eight heats. The first two in each heat, along with the eight fastest losers, will advance to the semi-finals.

Chamney will be looking for experience more than anything else. It was with London 2012 in mind that the Olympic Council of Ireland selected him on a B standard for Beijing — he was only .66 sec outside the A standard — after he won the national title.

With a PB of 1:46.46, he was fifth in the European U23 championships in 2005, and made the semi-finals at the European indoors in Birmingham last year. He also has experience from the European senior championships in Gothenburg and the World Student Games.

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