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Loughnane focused on every step of the way

Olive Loughnane's quest for perfection is the key to her success, writes Marie Crowe

S itting across from world silver medallist Olive Loughnane in the café of a Cork City gym, it's impossible not to be enthralled by her comprehensive attitude to training and her attention to detail. She is a self-professed control freak.

"I have to be a control freak because there are certain things I need to make sure that I do well. In order to be focused and perform, I need the reassurance that I have everything organised."

This precision encompasses Loughnane's whole lifestyle. Believing that it's the small things that make the difference, that give her the extra inch, she doesn't leave anything to chance. She is exact about everything, diet, training, rest and recovery.

The Irish Sports Council provide their athletes with access to nutritionists, physiotherapists and psychologists and these are services that Loughnane takes advantage of regularly. She revealed that although many people see it as a sign of weakness to visit a psychologist, she sees it as another way to get stronger.

"I can always learn something from these experts. I never feel that I know too much. Going to see these people is something I can do and if it's something that will help me, then why not. You can't be an expert on everything. The things I can control I work hard at to make sure that they are right. Anything that distracts me is not good for my performance."

One of these distractions was only last month and it culminated in the Four Courts. A glance back at the case involving Athletics Ireland and the Irish Sports Council gives an insight into a dysfunctional relationship that has manifested over time. The case left the organisations with a legal bill of close to €800,000.

"It wasn't either organisation's finest moment but I have to focus on my performance and while that may sound selfish, at the end of the day that's what I'll be judged on. And if I do well it can improve the reputation of Athletics Ireland. I stay away from the political elements of athletics; my job is to perform and perform well. Getting involved wouldn't benefit me or the situation."

In February, Athletics Ireland received just over €400,000 from the Irish Sports Council to fund Loughnane and the rest of its elite athletes. The cost of the case effectively equates to two years of funding for Ireland's athletes. Loughnane herself gets €40,000 a year from the Sports Council.

"It's adequate I would probably do better if I had a day job but I do this to win. I'm lucky I have a three-year commitment from the Sports Council that they will support me until the Olympics so it's great to have that security. The only other sponsorship I have is a car. The money I get is my money to live on and to fund most of my training camps and my travel too.

"I know there are blank cheques for athletes in other countries. I would be wealthier if I was Russian but I don't want to be Russian. I'm happy with my lot. I have a life and a medal and that's brilliant. I wouldn't be happy with just the medal and nothing else."

Yesderday Loughnane was forced to drop out of the 20 K Walk in the IAAF Grand Challenge in Portugal after falling at a turn on the wet course. She felt a soreness in her knee and didn't want to risk aggravating it because for now she is focused on the future and for her and most Irish athletes the race of the year will take place in July at the European Athletics Championships. Finishing well in this race is an essential part of her preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games. "I know London is where I want to go and I know the steps I have to take to get there. I would be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it but I've worked the whole thing back and Barcelona in July is part of it.

"Right now, I'm thinking about my short-term goals and if I meet those targets I will get to where I want to go."

With three Olympic Games and five World Championships behind her, the Galway woman has plenty of experience to draw from. She exudes a confidence that comes with being familiar with what lies ahead. Reflecting on her medal win last year in Berlin, she is nonchalant in admitting she knew that there weren't three people in the race who were better than her.

"I was in really good shape. I had worked closely with the sports psychologist. I was ready, I really was. It had all come together and I had beaten everyone in the race at some stage, just not on the same day. I knew there was a medal there and I had to get it."

With winning medals comes some occupational hazards and being thin is one of them. It's not something that the international star is completely comfortable with, revealing that while pregnant she relished being a normal size.

Three months into her term she discovered that running and walking were not going to be an option for her, so she learned to swim. It kept her fit and even allowed her to do a few laps the day before her daughter was born.

"I swam throughout my pregnancy and I was back training a few days after she was born. It was good to get back so soon after having her to be able to go do something else and let her to spend time with her dad.

"How I combine my career and family has its benefits. On one hand I have to go away for camps but on the other hand I'm home most days. My job is a bit of a spilt shift. I have a lot of flexibility but like anyone you just do what needs to be done."

Essentially, Loughnane's daily routine revolves around training. A light breakfast is consumed first thing followed by a 15k walk. Then it's a second breakfast, time for whatever errands need to be done followed by rest before her second walk of the day which is generally another 7k.

The weekends are also dictated by training but it's the sacrifice that must be made if Loughnane wants to build on her success.

"I need to keep working hard and consolidate what I'm doing because I know what it's like to win a medal and once you win a medal, you want to win another one."

Leaving the Leisure World where she trains, Loughnane stops to chat to the staff and patrons.

Her genuine smile and easy manner emphasises just how much she loves what she does. She is a true professional.

Sunday Independent

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