You could be forgiven for thinking that athletes worldwide are currently panicking about the upcoming Olympic Games in London. However, as Loughrea’s World Championship silver medallist Olive Loughnane points out, elite athletes must maintain peak fitness year in, year out, and not just every four years.
“I suppose I’m kind of in the swing of things at this stage. It’s my fourth Olympics, but we’ve a major championship every year and we work in four-year cycles. In the years that there isn’t an Olympics, there are World or European Championships, so it’s a bit of routine at this stage,” she says.
Nonetheless, as the London Olympiad approaches, she is upping the intensity of her training, while remaining mindful of the need to avoid overdoing it and risking injury.
“Of course, the Olympics are really, really important and, while I’m making every effort that I can, it’s important not to go too far the other side, and let yourself get really carried away, which I have done in the past,” she notes ruefully.
So, does the fact that the biggest sporting event in the calendar is happening practically on her doorstep give her an advantage, or does she feel added pressure to perform in the closest thing an Irish athlete will ever come to a home Olympics?
“It is great that all my family from home are coming and my daughter and husband, and a lot of my friends from Carrabane and Loughrea are threatening to go over, so it is an advantage.
“I know at the World Championships in Berlin, I was really hurting, and I thought ‘OK, I’m just going to go to the next little bunch of Irish supporters’, so I know well it’ll be great in the final stages of the races, please God, when I’m fighting it out for a good position.”
But, although she relishes the fact that her friends and family will be able to support her at the Games next month, the Carrabane race-walker is going to resist the option to stay at home until the Games, opting instead for the more regimented confines of the athlete’s camp, after a period of warm-weather training.
“I still need to be in a camp environment to help me focus and to get a huge amount of rest. It’ll also be good to have the camaraderie of other athletes around,” she says.
And, even though they do not compete together, there is, she says a team atmosphere among the athletes.
“Athletics is a funny one because, while we’re the athletics team, it’s 17 people doing different events.” Nonetheless, she says, it is “good to meet the others, because you mightn’t see them too much the rest of the year”.
“For us it’s not about the money, it’s about representing your country. For me, I get such a kick when get my gear and stuff, and I’m proud to be Irish and the Olympics really brings that out. The novelty never wears off.”
Despite this, she doesn’t harbour any desire to prolong her career to include a fifth Olympics in 2016, saying her husband might kill her.
“I’ll be 36 when I compete in London and that’s a very doable age. The silver medallist at the last games was 36, but I think 40 would be pushing it, I’m not even saying ‘never say never!’
“It’s not just me that’s involved, it’s a whole lifestyle. I’m very lucky to have wonderful support from my husband and family, but I think by this time four years, I’ll be watching it.”
In the meantime, she intends to enjoy every minute of London 2012. “I will savour it. We go to a major championships every year, but the Olympics are still so special.”