Eslin’s Laura Reynolds enjoyed a dream Olympic debut last Saturday as the Mohill & District Athletic Club walker set a new personal best and finished a magnificent 20th in the Women’s 20Km walk at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Laura smashed her previous personal best of 1.32.34 as she crossed the line in 20th place in an amazing time of 1.31.02 and earned rave reviews for a fantastic debut on the streets around Buckingham Palace.
Backed by vociferous Leitrim and Irish support, highlighted by the Eslin Ladies GAA team, Laura moved steadily through the field and finished like the proverbial train to finish inside the top 20, a feat she didn’t fully realise she achieved!
“I didn’t realise the time until I was coming down The Mall the final time,” Laura revealed to the Observer, “I could see the clock ticking over at 90 minutes, 91 minutes and I couldn’t believe it. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure what place I was in when I crossed the line, I thought I might be somewhere in the mid 20s but when I found out what place I finished in, I couldn’t believe it.
“Top 20, I can’t ask for any more than that. It wasn’t the best build-up I’ve ever had as I had a few niggles but I am delighted with the performance.”
Incredibly, Laura revealed that she set personal bests over 5K and 10Km in the race as well, testament to her training and the work of coach Colin Griffin as she revealed that a conservative race plan was behind her success.
“I started off near the back of the field but that was part of the plan I had talked over with Colin, which was a great help to me after Colin’s own performance. But even when I went off, I was getting worried because the pace was blistering from the start and I was getting a bit nervous.
“But the plan was to stay composed and not panic and work my way through the field. We knew that people would go off way too fast and that was how it turned out, I think I passed 20 or 25 people over the second half of the race.
“The plan was always to walk negative splits, to stay calm and focussed and put the hammer down over the second half of the race and that is what I did. The second 10K of my race was a minute faster than the first half and I really went for it.”
Key to Laura’s second half race surge was the awesome Leitrim and Irish support out on the course - “The support and turn-out was incredible. You’d be nearly defeaned by the support and it is hard to stay focussed with that sort of noise and support.
“I was taken aback by the level of support from Leitrim and Ireland during the race, I never experienced anything like it. To see so many Leitrim flags out on the course and to have so many people from Eslin, from all around Leitrim, friends from college and my own family out on the course was amazing.
“I was nearly defeaned by all the support and it really brought me through when I went through a bad patch, you didn’t want to let down these great supporters. I want to thank everyone for all the messages of support before the race and congratulations after it, all the fundraising everyone did.”
Laura’s performance also brought another bonus in that she has already achieved the Qualifying time for next year’s World Championships in Moscow - “The time qualifies me for the World Championships next year in Moscow, which is great as it gives me a chance to focus on preparing well.
“I am also eligible for the World Student Games next year but that is a month before the World Championships so I will have to see what I will do. But it is a relief to get the qualifying time out of the way so early.”
If getting the qualifying time out of the way solves one problem, Laura has another as she is looking for a job while trying to juggle her race-walking career - “I was looking for a job before the Olympics because I wasn’t sure how things would go this year. I’d hope to get a few hours in some school but I’ll have to look at it and see how things go.
“I’m not sure if my funding will go up, I’ll have to look at the performance charts but any sort of increase in funding would help a lot, it is an expensive business to be in.”
Laura, who is taking a break for about three weeks, paid tribute to the training camp set up by the Olympic Council of Ireland and Athletics Ireland as well as her coach Colin Griffin - “Colin walked earlier that morning but he immediately switched to coaching mode, it was very good of him after his own performance.”