Loughnane turns silver into gold seven years later
As she stood atop the rostrum, holding back the tears, Olive Loughnane had never felt as proud. It may have taken seven years, but in Amsterdam last night the retired Irish race walker was finally awarded the gold medal she rightfully earned at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin.
"It's surreal," said Loughnane, moments after being presented with her medal by IAAF president Sebastian Coe. "I'm in a state of shock. The emotions were running high because I've always said I was so proud of my performance that day, and the fact that it was good enough to be world champion is icing on the cake. I know in my heart I gave it everything, it was just a pity the system wasn't strong enough to catch her at the time."
The athlete she speaks of is Russia's Olga Kaniskina, who beat Loughnane in the 20km event by 49 seconds in Berlin, but was one of several Russians to be banned last year and have her performances annulled after retroactive tests showed irregularities in her biological passport.
Loughnane was officially upgraded to gold in March and accepted an offer by European Athletics to be presented with the medal in Amsterdam, where a small gathering of Irish fans flew tricolours last night as 'Amhrán na bhFiann' rang out across the medal plaza.
"A lot of my friends who came to Berlin also came here, and though it's not the same as getting it at the time, it's as good as they could have done in the circumstances," said Loughnane. "You have to respect that, because there's value in the sentiment. It's a wonderful bonus to be winning medals when you're retired, and I can enjoy this now as I know it's definitely the last hurrah."
Elsewhere yesterday, Thomas Barr made a strong start to his campaign, coming home a comfortable winner in his heat of the 400m hurdles in a season's best of 50.17. "That was a big confidence boost," said Barr. "I know I can push on a bit in the semi-final. I'm going in with no expectation or pressure and that'll help me run fast."
Brian Gregan was the only Irish 400m athlete to advance to today's semi-finals, finishing fifth in his heat in 47.02. "It was massively windy so the times were pretty abysmal, but I felt comfortable enough," he said. "I'm looking forward to the semi-final and giving it a lash again. I won't be reserving anything."
Craig Lynch was eliminated after finishing seventh in 47.61, while on his return to international action, David Gillick finished eighth in 47.81.
Sinéad Denny made the perfect major championship debut by finishing third in her 400m heat in 53.95 to reach today's semi-finals. "It was really good," she said. "I didn't save anything for the home straight, but I knew I would come home strong."
Síofra Cléirigh-Buttner was marginally eliminated after finishing fifth in her heat of the women's 800m. "I ran my own race and couldn't have done much more," she said. "I just came up a bit short."
Irish in action today
Women's pole vault qualification, (8:35 Irish time): Tori Pena
Men's 200m heats (9.50): Marcus Lawler
Men's 800m heats (10.30): Karl Griffin, Declan Murray
Women's 100m heats (11.15): Amy Foster
Men's 400m hurdles semi-final (3.15): Thomas Barr
Men's 400m semi-final (3.45): Brian Gregan
Women's 400m semi-final (4.35): Sinead Denny
Men's 1,500m heats (5:20): Eoin Everard