It was the four-lap, two-minute, 800-metre race that truly heralded her arrival. No longer was Nadia Power a lane filler on the premier circuit in athletics. All of a sudden, the 23-year-old had become a contender.
At the World Indoor Tour event in Torun, Poland last night, the Dubliner didn’t so much break the Irish indoor 800m record as take offence to its very existence, carving 1.5 seconds off the mark she set in Vienna back in January.
In many of her races this year, Power had chugged through the first three laps with great purpose but as well as she was running, the fuel gauge often ran dry all too far from the finish. This time was different.
This time she cruised through 400m in a tick under 59 seconds and reached 600m in 1:29, then, as she entered the death zone of the 800m, she managed to hold form, maintain pace and blast to finish in 2:00.98, half a second behind Olympic fifth-placer Joanna Jozwik, inches ahead of former European 1,500m champion Angelika Cichocka.
Power already has one European medal in the bag – bronze from the U-23 championships in 2019 – but the bridge from there to a senior podium is immense.
Last night put her sixth on the European rankings for 2021 and with some of those ahead unlikely to be at next month’s European Indoors, due to be held on the same track in Torun, there’s every reason to believe she can be the next Irish athlete to drape themselves in a tricolour at a major championship.
If she does, of course, it’ll inevitably bring out a small but endlessly vocal minority who so often and so tragically make themselves heard among the majority, the kind that ask a mixed race and audibly Irish native where they are really from.
For the record, Power was born and raised in Dublin. Her mother is from Kilkenny, her father Sudan, and she’s had the typical experiences familiar to most non-white Irish sportspeople: the touching of her hair on nights out, the questioning of her nationality in the comment sections.
Throughout her teenage years, her talent was always undeniable. In 2013 Power finished fifth in the European Youth Olympic final over 1,500m. Two years later she got her first taste of the big time at the World U-18 Championships in Colombia but failed to finish after being tripped in her 1,500m heat. In 2017 she made the European U-20 1,500m final and finished 11th.
Very good, but not all that great.
In 2019 she gave herself an ultimatum: “I was like, ‘am I just going to keep turning up and qualifying?’ I decided I was going to believe in myself. I was thinking about a medal.”
She then went on to win bronze at the European U-23s. Thing is, this could all easily have gone the other way. In 2016 Power had her pick of various US colleges for an athletics scholarship and she settled on the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
It didn’t work out.
She was homesick from the start, alarmed at the way her mileage was ramped up without an iota of caution about injury, and the following year she returned to Dublin, enrolling at DCU and training ever since under the sensible guidance of Enda Fitzpatrick.
In September last year, she broke the Irish U-23 800m record with 2:01.01 in Rovereto, Italy, and as 2021 dawned and many Irish athletes chose to stay home, Power was willing to venture around Europe in a bid to boost her Olympic chances and make a mark against the world’s best.
She followed stringent guidelines to do so, having more PCR tests than she cares to count, and with help from leading agent Nic Bideau to access top-level races, she has competed in Austria, France, Belgium and Poland over the past three weeks.
If she stays healthy between now and the summer, she will undoubtedly qualify for her first Olympics and she looks primed to soon join Ciara Mageean as the only Irishwomen to break two minutes. But first it’s back to Torun, and the European Indoors in a fortnight’s time. With the way this season has gone, Power will feel like she’s already playing with house money.