Mayo native Sinéad Diver will fulfil her Olympic dream this summer after being selected by Australia to compete in the women’s marathon at the Tokyo Games. The 44-year-old was among six athletes picked for Australia to contest the Olympic marathons, which will be held in Sapporo, 831 kilometres north of Tokyo.
Her selection is a reminder to those in Irish athletics of what might have been given Diver, who emigrated to Australia in 2002, had intended to compete internationally for her native country before Athletics Ireland revised the qualifying standard for the 2015 World Championships.
“I presumed I’d run for Ireland – like, I’m Irish,” said the Belmullet native, who ran that race with her fingernails painted in the Irish tricolour. “Athletics Ireland changed their standard and it was a bit of a curveball. It was upsetting.”
Diver only found her way to the sport at the age of 33, the mother-of-two taking up running in 2010 and progressing rapidly in the years that followed. In 2014 she ran 2:34:15 at the Melbourne Marathon, almost 10 minutes below the qualifying standard for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, but Athletics Ireland then altered their qualifying standard to 2:33:30, 45 seconds below Diver’s best.
As a dual citizen, she knew the only way to run in Beijing would be in an Australian vest and she chose that option, keen not to let the opportunity pass. Given World Athletics has introduced rules mandating a three-year wait before changing allegiance, Diver’s only option thereafter was to continue running for her adopted nation.
A knee injury cost her the chance to qualify for the 2016 Olympics but she ascended to world-class in the years that followed, lowering her marathon best to 2:24:11 in London in 2019, finishing an outstanding seventh against the world’s best.
Trained by Nic Bideau, the renowned Australian coach and husband of Sonia O’Sullivan, Diver has carved up the over-40s world records in recent years, running 31:25.49 for 10,000 metres and 1:08:55 for the half marathon.
However, she has long disregarded such achievements, wanting to only be known as a good runner, not a good masters runner.
“I don’t care about the masters records,” she said. “If I wanted to run masters races, I’d enter as a master. My age isn’t impacting me at all and it just annoys me how people focus on that.” Her arrival on the Olympic stage will mark a proud moment for her friends and relatives back in Mayo, along with her husband, Colin, and sons Eddie and Dara in Melbourne.
Ireland will field an incomplete women’s marathon team at the Tokyo Olympics with Fionnuala McCormack and Aoife Cooke the only two athletes to hit the automatic qualifying standard of 2:29:30. McCormack has not raced since giving birth late last year, while Cooke secured her qualifying time at the Cheshire Elite Marathon in April, running 2:28:36.
Ann-Marie McGlynn came agonisingly close to qualifying when running 2:29:34 at the same race, just four seconds outside the standard. In her final attempt at a race in Austria last month she passed halfway on target but in dire conditions she was unable to maintain her pace and she stepped off the course.