OLIVE LOUGHNANE WORLD CHAMPION AND FOUR-TIME OLYMPIAN

At what age did you start running? I started training in athletics when I was 13 and moved to race walking when I was 19. I have been a member of the Loughrea Athletic Club for about 30 years- it's a great club and had a hugely positive influence. I am very proud to have been a member.

Do you remember your first competition? I first started running at the school sports when I was four. I thought I was going to win and I was the last of four. I was a pretty small and wincy child, but I just kept on trying. I was in about fourth class at Carrabane National School - a wonderful little school - when I started winning.

What is your ideal race event? I loved being part of a team, so I competed in all team events like the relays, and then later cross countries. I was mad about the team events, but the individual event I liked the best was race walking. It had a lot of appeal for me. Most technical events are power based like sprints, and I was not built for that being skinny and small. But race walking was an unusual combination because it was technical, but it was also about endurance.

Who inspired you when growing up? I remember watching John Treacy in the Los Angeles Olympics and Eamonn Coughlan winning - those athletics inspired me. Also coming from a strong tradition of athletics in Loughrea was inspirational.

Did you also aspire to play at the top level? I always wanted to take the next step. It was a natural progression really, and I remember the 1992 Olympics when Jimmy McDonald finished sixth in the walk and I wanted that too. That piqued my interest in the event.

What do you particularly like about your sport? I played camogie when I was little, but I lacked the eye-hand coordination. But I was also very active, very fit and full of energy so it was natural for me to gravitate towards athletics. It was also something I could do myself, but I also loved the social aspect and training with the girls. What kept me going were the girls and the enjoyment of heading to competitions, the support, the fun.

Who/what was the greatest influence/role model? My teachers. In particular, I remember my first class teacher, Mary Greany. There wasn't much support for girls playing sport in the 80s, but she started taking us for camogie after school. Another teacher Mary Barrett would bring me along to events and support my running. The options were not as broad for girls in sport as they are now.

Biggest challenge to date? Coming back into competition after the birth of my first child in 2006. I did not realise how difficult it was going to be, but it gave me a new perspective. There were a lot of bad days. I finished 17th in the World Champions in 2007, but having the tenacity to stick with it, I finished seventh the following year. I wanted to be the best and I always believed I could be, but there were still some difficult days.

What has been your greatest success? Becoming World Champion (2009 ) in the 20km race walk - even if was it was so long after the event. Everyone had talked about the winner Olga Kaniskina and drugs, but I never paid heed. It was an excellent achievement for me to get the silver medal, but when she was stripped of her medal, winning the gold was the icing on the cake. I had to hold back the tears.

Favourite memories? I still remember my first Olympic Games in 2000. I was not on anybody's short list or their long list for that matter, but I believed I could qualify. It was such a big deal to qualify, and there was such great support from Carrabane and Loughrea Athletic club. I could see the impact and how good people were. Olympics is the pinnacle.

When I knew I was awarded the gold medal for the Worlds, I picked my daughter up from school and told her the news, she said: "That's great mummy, can we go to the swings?". After a few false dawns, I finally collected the gold medal six years later, and this time when I collected my daughter she told the first person she met of the news. By then she knew what it meant.

Fiercest opponent/s? Myself. I put myself under so much pressure and was so hard on myself to perform and win. There was no athlete I particularly feared. I was pretty good at ensuring nobody could impact on me. I always pushed myself and did things physically I never thought I could - I was a tough cookie.

If not running, what sport would you want to play? I always enjoyed gymnastics and swimming, but I would love to have been a rower.

Relaxation? I love spending time with my children, Eimear (14 ), Ciarán (6 ) and Aoileann (4 ). I go for walks. When I was training, I read a lot.

Favourite sports person: Shane Lowry. He's a great guy, good fun, and extremely down to earth. Delighted to see him enjoying success.

Best/worst aspect of lockdown: The best is getting to exercise, seeing more of my family and less stress. The worst is trying to combine work and family at home, trying to keep the schoolwork up. But it is great to be with the children, slow down, and take trips into town.

 

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