Testing times as Nadia Power tries to keep show on the road during Covid

Athlete admits she has had to finance quest to qualify for Olympics while waiting on funding

The last thing Nadia Power expected in her final quest to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics was being so grateful for a Dublin lab to offer free testing for a highly contagious virus that’s already left her heavily out of pocket.

Despite a series of breakthrough runs throughout the indoor season, twice breaking the Irish 800 metres record, almost three months into Olympic year already – and at the second attempt – Power still hasn’t received any financial assistance from Athletics Ireland, instead eating into around €3,000 of either savings or borrowings just to keep the show on the road.

She’s grateful for other things too – newly announced as a Toyota ambassador, with the use of a new Yaris Hybrid – and the 23-year-old from Dublin is careful to not sound too critical of Athletics Ireland. She’s essentially built her own high-performance unit around herself anyway, and not yet eligible for the Sport Ireland carding scheme, is relying instead on the “pool” of funding that eventually comes down via Athletics Ireland.

“I think just getting our funding in time is a bit of an issue,” says Power, who spent much of January and February training and racing around Europe, paying for all the required Covid-19 tests along the way. “You do have to resort to your own savings. Including my training camp, close to €3,000 I’d say. I am hoping to have [funding] in time for outdoors – that should pay for my [training] camp and my races outdoors.


“Because athletics is a smaller sport in Ireland, a lot of the sponsors would immediately think rugby or GAA. It is tough, but I have still received a lot of support this year, just help from different people. There are a lot of good people out there and they kind of know your story and they want to help and I really appreciate that.”

Still being a student at DCU, she gets some financial support via the scholarship programme: “And I’m lucky enough to get support from Adidas and Optimum Nutrition, so those things do help, but it’s fairly expensive, hopefully in future with no Covid it’ll be significantly more doable.

“But yeah, the funding, getting that on time is really all I need from Athletics Ireland. We have been promised it in the next few weeks so hopefully. I think I only got it in September last year. But hopefully I’ll get better and get on it [Sport Ireland funding] soon.”

What is certain is that Power is now ideally placed to qualify for Tokyo: the European Indoors in Torun, Poland earlier this month fell a little short of expectations when she missed out on the final (she was never “favourite” to win a medal). And after twice breaking the Irish record, lowering it to 2:00.98, her string of results boosted her ranking from 59th 35th, with the top 48 invited to Tokyo.

She did lose that Irish record when Síofra Cléirigh Buttner subsequently reclaimed it, running 2:00:58 a week before Torun, but all that experience is priceless to Power as she looks to Tokyo and beyond.

“It obviously stung a little bit when she [Buttner] took my Irish record. I know ultimately that will make me a better athlete and make sure I higher my standards again. I think I’ve gained a lot of independence from travelling around and navigating all the restrictions around Covid. But I still need to step it up if I want to really compete seriously, going for a medal at Europeans, going to the Olympics, there’s a lot more work to do there.”

Free Covid-19 testing doesn’t remove the fear of a positive test, with one Irish athlete testing positive in Torun. Darragh McElhinney was also a late withdrawal from the team after the 3,000m runner returned a “weak positive” prior to departure.

Tokyo may yet be all about staying Covid free, only Power sees no other way if the Games are to go ahead.

“Just with that amount of people, that’s just the fall-out, and hopefully the organisers, and all the teams can look back, and no one got seriously sick from it, and if no one got seriously sick we can manage a few days of isolation, for the sake of the championships.

“I’m travelling all around the place but I’m being super careful. I haven’t been in a car or a house with a friend in a year nearly.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics