Australia’s fastest female in the Women’s Marathon event at the Tokyo Olympics has finished in an astonishing 10th place, making her only the second Australian woman to finish in the top 10 in the marathon at the Olympic Games.
Sinead Diver, who also happens to be the oldest member of Australia’s athletics team this year, also broke a 33-year drought in the women’s marathon with her performance over the weekend.
The last time an Australian woman finished in a top place at the Olympics in this event was at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when Lisa Ondieki took out the silver medal with a time of two hours, 23 minutes and 51 seconds.
Most impressive about 44-year old Diver is that she took up running just over a decade ago after giving birth to her first child. And this was her first time competing at the Olympics.
At the event on Saturday, Diver finished with a time of two hours, 31 minutes and 14 seconds — just under four minutes behind 27-year old race winner, Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir from Kenya.
The Melbourne-based mother of two said that she was surprised by the result.
“I’m speechless, I’m so happy. I didn’t expect to come top 10,” Diver said after the race.
“That was something I really wanted before the race, so I’m absolutely stoked that I fought for that spot at the end. I had to sprint to get past the girl in front of me, so I’m so happy I managed to do that.”
“My coach said to me before the race, ‘The first 90 minutes you’ve just got to feel relatively comfortable, the race doesn’t start until after that’, and I kept reminding myself of that, so I kept pulling back a bit. I gave it everything from about 32km.”
Her coach, Nic Bideau, is the the director of the Melbourne International Track Club, though he is better known as the figure who guided Cathy Freeman to her gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
“I’m just so relieved that I was able to stay strong until the end,” Diver added. After the race, talking to the media, she addressed her family directly.
“I’ve been away from them for quite a few weeks now,” she said. “I really miss them. I hope they are proud of their mum, I’m sure they are screaming at the TV now.”
“I want to say thank you to my husband, Colin, who supported me so much throughout this. He has taken on way more than his fair share of things, so I’m really grateful to him.”
“My dad is probably the proudest man on the planet at the moment.”
Diver was born in Belmullet in County Mayo, a small town off the west coast of Ireland. She was an active child, frequently climbing cliffs and swimming, however physical activity was discouraged by the officials who operated the high school she attended.
Diver moved to Australia in 2002 at the age of 25 to pursue a career in computing. She now works as a software engineer, though she also has a degree in secondary education.
The marathon began at 6am on Saturday in Sapporo, with temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius and humidity peaking at 69 percent. The heat and stifling conditions caused fifteen of the 88 runners to pull out of the race before the finish line.
Diver powered through the race, accelerating strongly towards the end to overtake Namibia’s Jelalia Johannes in the closing straight to snag her top 10 finish.
Fellow Australian runners, Ellie Pashley and Lisa Weightman came in 23rd and 26th respectively.