American nightmare forgotten as talented Power eyes Olympic dream
By Cathal Dennehy
When she heard the news, Nadia Power refused to believe it. The Dubliner had been walking on air, beaming with pride as she left the track in Gavle, Sweden last July, having won the first major international medal of her career.
A bronze over 800m at the European U-23 Athletics Championships, something she’d worked towards for years – something which was about to be snatched from her grasp.
Power had already done a delighted interview and posed for pictures when an official called her aside, his expression telling her the story before the words did: she’d been disqualified.
Rule 163.2: obstruction.
Power racked her brain, trying to figure out what she’d done wrong, but came up empty. She was shown a replay of an incident halfway through the race, when Britain’s Jemma Reekie moved across in front of her entering a bend, at which point Power put her arms out to protect her space.
An eagle-eyed official had been standing at that point and that was it: Power’s name dropped from third to last on the results sheet: DQ.
Well Done to Nadia Power who has won bronze in the 800mts at the Euro u23s!
2.06.68 was the Dubliner's time and she showed the heart of a lion to hold on down the home straight 👏🇮🇪 pic.twitter.com/rH2hvDTqyn
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) July 13, 2019
Irish team managers Richard Rodgers and Paul McNamara put in an appeal, and Power tried her best to put up a front while it played out. “I didn’t let anything out, but inside I was hysterical,” she says. “I was devastated. Everyone was avoiding looking at me; they knew I was in the worst state ever.”
The Irish management approached the British team, explaining how their appeal would argue that the obstruction Power caused to Reekie had little or no effect given the Briton went on to win gold. “Jemma was so good,” says Power. “She went to the officials and said, ‘I felt nothing, I wasn’t impeded.’”
All the while, Power sat with teammate Louise Shanahan who’d been a supportive presence in a time of great stress. More than 90 minutes later, Rodgers approached Power with good news: she was, once again, a European medallist.
The stadium was empty when she finally got to stand on the rostrum, and Power’s chief memory after that was “wanting to get on the bus and hide in case someone came after me again”.
There was something different about that championship. Power was 21 at the time, and was just about done with showing up to these things to simply take part.
In 2013 she was fifth in the European Youth Olympic final over 1500m. Two years later she got her first taste of the big time at the World U18 Championships in Colombia, but Power failed to finish after being tripped in her 1500m heat. In 2017 she made the European U20 1500m final and finished 11th.
Good, but not great.
She admits in those early years she was sometimes “happy to be there” at major championships but that changed in 2019. “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.”
Her progress had been steady over the years, though it wasn’t always a smooth ride. Power marked herself out as a big talent in her early teens by winning a slew of underage titles and it had long been her plan to go to college in the US.
In sixth year she whittled it down to three options: Iona College in New York, Providence College in Rhode Island and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The first two had long traditions among Irish athletes, but Power admits she was “blinded by the bright lights” of Virginia, a much bigger college with incredible facilities.
She was the first Irish athlete to go there – but her American dream was not as she’d imagined it. From the start she was homesick, but her chief worry was how the coach ramped up her mileage, with hard eight-mile runs a daily staple, more than twice what she had done back home. She watched as injuries rippled through the team and a few months later she turned her back on the place for good.
Power had booked flights to Dublin months in advance of the Christmas break but, closer the time, her coach demanded she change the dates to return to Virginia two days earlier, in time for a team meeting. That would cost an extra €700, so Power chose to fly back on the original date, which got her temporarily suspended from the team and saw her scholarship cut by five percent.
She faced a frosty reception when she returned to Virginia and after a couple of weeks she decided she’d had enough, booking a one-way flight to Dublin in January 2017. She enrolled in DCU later that year and has since been under the guidance of Enda Fitzpatrick, who was ousted as long-time director of athletics last year.
Her times are slowly creeping towards world-class territory. Last summer Power lowered her 800m PB to 2:02.39 and in March she won the Irish indoor 800m title.
She typically does three hard sessions a week: kilometre reps on a Tuesday, fartlek training on a Thursday, hill reps on a Saturday. The other days are filled with recovery runs and three times a week, she lifts weights under the guidance of Donie Fox at Sports Med Ireland.
In recent months, that gym work has been confined to her back garden in Templeogue, while most of her sessions have been done in Tymon Park, where she often trains with her boyfriend, Dublin hurler James Madden. “He’s getting fitter,” she says, “and I’m getting a lot faster.”
When the Olympics were postponed until 2021, Power wasn’t too upset. After all she’d been working full-time in an internship all year and she’ll have much more flexibility for training as she heads into the final year of her marketing degree at DCU.
If she can take another second or two off her PB in the next 12 months, that Tokyo vision will become a reality. “It’s a goal now,” she says, “rather than the amazing bonus it would have been this year. It’s every athlete’s dream.”