Though only securing the qualifying time four weeks before the deadline, DCU graduate Laura Reynolds enjoyed a dream Olympic debut, as she tells Eoghan Cormican.
A week prior to the Games of the XXX Olympiad, John Treacy, Irish Sports Council CEO, touted race walkers Olive Loughnane and Robert Heffernan as our most realistic hopes of a track and field medal. Both had finished in the top-eight in Beijing and their subsequent form suggested a similar placing was on the cards.
So, when Heffernan shaved over seven minutes off the national record to claim fourth in the 50km on the morning of August 11, attention quickly turned to Loughnane’s race later that day. Hope sprang eternal that the former World Silver medallist could follow, quite literally, in Heffernan’s footsteps.
In the end, Loughnane could only manage a credible 13th place; her effort overshadowed by the emergence of a new talent, a new force in Irish race walking. Step forward Laura Reynolds.
The PE and Biology graduate enjoyed a superb Olympic debut crossing the line 20th in the women’s 20km, lowering her personal best (PB) of 1:32:37 to 1:31:02 in the process. It was a much different story, however, early in the race as Reynolds’ cautious approach saw her come through the half-way mark in 41st place. As others began to tire, Reynolds – buoyed by the huge cohort of Irish supporters in attendance – moved through the field to edge inside the top twenty by just under two seconds.
Speaking to College View Sport, the Leitrim native expressed satisfaction with her performance, saying she was “delighted” to secure such a high placing. “It was great to get in the top 20 and then get a PB by over 90 seconds as well. The support for the Irish was overwhelming and the crowd were so close to the course as well. They really helped keep me going.”
“Myself and my coach had decided to start off at 46 minutes for 10km and then just attack after that and see what I could do and I did 45mins for my last 10km. The pace at the beginning of the race was blistering fast and I knew that a lot of the athletes wouldn’t be able to keep with it. I just had to trust the plan and stick to it.”
Given that her race did not take place until the second last day of the Games, Reynolds arrived later than most athletes to the Olympic village, but concedes that the whole experience was “absolutely brilliant”.
“The OCI and Athletics Ireland had organised a holding camp for us in Teddington, London which we stayed in until a few days before our races. It was a great place for training and kept us away from all the hype and pressure and I was there for two and half weeks prior to my race.”
While this story is one of triumph against all odds, for a long time it appeared that the 23-year-old would have to wait until Rio to make her Olympic debut. Just four weeks before the qualifying deadline – and having fallen short twice before – Reynolds travelled to La Coruna in Spain, keenly aware that time was running out on the Olympic dream.
“I didn’t feel a huge amount of pressure because the deadline was closing in. My training in the weeks prior to the race had gone extremely well. I ended up walking 1.32.34, nearly a minute inside the A standard of 1:33:30. I was well on target throughout the race to achieve the A standard.”
“Afterwards I was just delighted to have gotten the standard. I was finally going to the Olympics which is every athlete’s dream. It was also a relief to get it and I could just concentrate on preparing for London from then on.”
Laura’s endeavours on the streets around Buckingham Palace also brought an added bonus in that she has achieved the qualifying time for next summer’s World Championships in Moscow. Aside from this event, she also hopes to compete in the European Cup and the World University Games in July.
Concluding our conversation, Reynolds pays tribute to the College which allowed her combine studies with an athletics career very much in its infancy. “DCU is a great place to train. I was on a sports scholarship and part of the athletics academy. The School of Health and Human Performance and School of Education were very accommodating while I was studying.”
Laura Reynolds showed but a snippet of her pedigree in London and should her trajectory continue on an upward curve, John Treacy may well be touting another race walker as medal material come 2016.
Eoghan Cormican is our Sports Editor