MARTIN Fagan's failed drug test overshadowed the achievement of Ireland's latest Olympic qualifier last weekend, but Dundrum South Dublin's Ava Hutchinson was still buzzing with delight yesterday.
The 28-year-old's 2:35.33 -- in only her second marathon in Houston last weekend -- was not only comfortably inside the 2:37 qualifying mark, but also nearly a minute faster than Linda Byrne, who got in with her 2:36.20 debut in Dublin last October.
It was believed that Hutchinson went out too fast on her debut in Dublin when she just broke 2:43, but she says she got a calf injury after eight miles and used the exact same pacing last weekend.
Running another marathon within three months was a gamble, but one she says that her coach Ray Treacy got absolutely right.
A graduate of Butler University in Indiana, Hutchinson has been working and training in Loughborough for the last four years, but was looking for someone new to guide her last spring, after winning the Irish inter-clubs cross-country title.
Brendan Quinn helped hook her up with Treacy and the partnership has certainly clicked.
"Before Dublin I spent five weeks training in Providence with Ray and got to train with Kim Smith (New Zealand's top woman) -- well behind her, if I'm honest. I was completely star-struck," she admitted.
She may speak with an English accent, but Hutchinson is a native of Blackrock, Co Dublin and joined DSD in her teens, dreaming of running for Ireland, which she did for the first time last year.
Her family moved to Hampshire when she was four as her father Colman, then a researcher on 'The Late Late Show', got a job in British television.
He has recently finished a 10-year stint producing 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire,' but it's doubtful if even going all the way in that programme would have made his daughter any happier than last weekend's achievement.
She paid tribute to Treacy and her boyfriend -- Welsh international Alex Haines -- as well as the Irish 'Marathon Mission' programme, which funded her trips to Providence and Houston.
With Maria McCambridge, who ran 2:36 in Paris two years ago, still looking to qualify (possibly in Rome in March), and another handful of 'Marathon Mission' women (including Barbara Sanchez, Lizzie Lee and Catriona Jennings) all expected to run in Rotterdam in April, there could yet be a fascinating battle for the three marathon places available for Irish women in London 2012.
Gladys Ganiel, who ran 2:40.56 in Houston last weekend, is also expected to have another crack at it.
Hutchinson is hopeful that her time is good enough to clinch her one of those spots; her next big race will be defending her national cross-country title on February 26.
Elsewhere, Fionnuala Britton is taking on a handful of top Africans in tomorrow's IAAF Antrim Cross-Country international at Greenmount.
It will feature Ethiopia's world junior steeplecase record-holder Birtukan Adamu, Kenya's Purity Kirui (world junior steeplechase champion) and two Ethiopians, Mekdes Bekele and Waganesh Mekasha.
Lee and Claire McCarthy are also among Ireland's entrants.