Athletics: Tummy bug ends Loughnane dream
OLIVE Loughnane's disastrous morning on the tree-lined Passeig de Picasso could be described as the ultimate athletics irony: a walker undone by a dose of the runs.
Ireland's best medal hope in Barcelona disappeared when the Loughrea star pulled out of yesterday's 20km walk final after just five kilometres.
The world silver medallist had been struggling with a bad stomach bug for four days and was forced to quit just in time to preserve her dignity.
That something as prosaic could be so debilitating underlined the delicate physical tightrope that world-class athletes tread -- tuned so finely at times that they could balance blindfolded on one toe, only then, after the merest twitch, to suddenly spiral towards oblivion.
After being comforted by her husband Martin and Irish team-mate Robert Heffernan, Loughnane said as much herself. "Sometimes it's a very fine line, when you're that fit, to stay on the right side of health. Maybe I went just a little too far this year," she mused.
Anyone who observed her top-10 Olympic finish amid biblical rain, or her epic performance in Berlin knows she is not a woman who quits easily.
A red flag was momentarily raised when a stomach bug forced her out of the national championships two weeks ago. She had recovered but it recurred during the team training camp in Murcia and Loughnane revealed she had been "eating Motilium".
"It's been on and off. I thought I'd manage, but once into the race, my stomach wasn't holding out," she explained. "I've struggled to eat and I don't have the power that I should have." One look at Loughnane on the start-line raised the alarm bells.
She usually thrives in the heat yet was already sweating profusely and doused herself in water on the first lap.
She still went to the head of the leading group during the second loop but when the race's first push came at 5km, she was too weak to respond, got quickly isolated behind a chasing group of five and then just stopped.
Ashen-faced but remarkably composed, she said: "I've had greater problems than this before but when your body's not able there's nothing you can do. I'm very strong mentally, but if the fuel is just not there . . . you have to take the bad days with the good."
As expected, Olga Kaniskina, who beat Loughnane in Berlin and is also the reigning Olympic champion, added the European gold in 1:27.44, a minute clear of two team-mates in a Russian medal sweep.