Three days into 2021 and eight days before her 23rd birthday, Nadia Power flew to Portugal on her own. Her destination was Monte Gordo, a town in the south eastern corner of the Algarve where she would spend the next three weeks at a warm weather training camp.
It was the first leg of a journey which she and her coach Enda Fitzpatrick hope will culminate in the Japanese National Stadium this summer.
Fitzpatrick’s work commitments as a teacher in Holy Faith School in Clontarf meant he couldn’t travel. “Luckily,” he says, “I was able to reach out to a Swiss coach, Louis Heyer, who looks after a lot of very good athletes in Switzerland including Selina Buchel, a two-time European Indoor 800m gold medallist. He said ‘why doesn’t she come and train with us?’”
As well as Buchel, the training group included Lovisa Lindh from Sweden and Poland’s Joanna Jozwik, both of whom have medalled in the 800m at European championship level.
“It worked out brilliantly. When I looked at the training Louis planned to do and the schedule, I had set out for Nadia I laughed because they were virtually identical. She got great confidence from being able to train with these girls. Louis was texting me every other day saying ‘this girl can run; she is as quick as the others over the short stuff. Do you think she can go faster?’ I guaranteed him that she would go quicker than she ever had before.”
Back in Dublin, Fitzpatrick was planning Power’s race itinerary. The focus was never on next weekend’s European Indoor championship, but the Olympics, where qualification is primarily based on a ranking system.
On January 1 Power was ranked 62nd with 1,135 ranking points; Fitzpatrick estimated she needed between 1,170 and 1,175 points to guarantee selection.
Initially the only races he had pencilled in were in Vienna on January 31 and Ghent in Belgium on February 13.
The first leg of what turned into an epic month-long trek across Europe began with a Covid-19 test in Faro, followed by a drive to Lisbon Airport. She flew to Vienna where she had to undergo another Covid test. Fitzpatrick estimates she has spent €1,500 of her own money on tests in the last seven weeks.
She smashed the Irish indoor record when finishing second in Vienna in 2:02.44. Her schedule changed when she was invited to race in Metz on February 6. Power flew to Paris and linked up with members of the Dublin Track Club and Paul Robinson who were renting a house in Vernon, a small town outside Paris.
From there she travelled to Metz in the company of Robinson and Seán Tobin where she ran 2:02.96 before catching a bus to Lievin where she raced three days later.
Power (left) had always planned to run in Ghent, but then secured a spot in an 800m race in Torún in Poland, on the track where next weekend’s Europeans are taking place. The only snag was that it was scheduled for four days after the race in Belgium.
The journey to Torún was a test of stamina, A three and a half hour train trip from Ghent to Paris followed by a Covid-19 test. Then a flight from Paris to Amsterdam. She underwent an antigen test in Schiphol Airport before boarding a flight to Gdansk in Poland and finally a three-hour train journey to Torún.
“She was travelling all day that Monday and ate her dinner at 10.30 that night. The way she navigated her way around Europe on her own is amazing. The amount of organisation it took to get to all the races was phenomenal,” said Fitzpatrick.
Forty-eight hours after that epic trip she broke her own Irish record, clocking 2:00.98 when finishing second behind her training partner in Portugal, Joanna Jozwik.
After a brief trip home, she travelled to Madrid last week where she finished third in the World Indoor Tour final, with valuable ranking points on offer. By then her new Irish record had been eclipsed by Síofra Cléirigh. It was a case of mission accomplished. She now has 1,184 points and is ranked 37th with 48 places available in the Olympic 800m.
It has been a golden month for women’s 800m running in Ireland with six athletes beating the European indoor qualifying standard. The three fastest; Cléirigh, Power and Georgie Hartigan run in the championship next weekend.
Fitzpatrick preaches caution about Power’s medal chances. “I’m going to be really honest here. I’m not listening to what anybody is saying. She might be ranked seventh in Europe, but this is championship racing which involves three races. To win a medal you must reach the final and to make the final you must finish in the top three in the semi-final.
“But having said all that I’m very confident based on her performance in Ghent where she didn’t bother about pace but concentrated on winning the race. First, we must see who is in her heat, come up with a plan and then execute it.
"Look, we are going for the experience, to get three races would be brilliant because it would replicate what will happen at the Olympic Games. Overall, we’re in a good place.”