Sinead Diver: meet the Irish runner setting records for Australia

Now aged 41, Diver only began running eight years ago and has her sights set on Tokyo

  Sinead Diver of Australia leads the pack in the Women’s Marathon final during day the 2015  World Athletics Championships in Beijing. Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images for IAAF

Sinead Diver of Australia leads the pack in the Women’s Marathon final during day the 2015 World Athletics Championships in Beijing. Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images for IAAF

 

The Irish woman running for Australia . . . Sporting nationality can sometimes sound a little contradictory, only right now Sinead Diver is happy to be running between the two. Even when wondering what might have been.

Her victory in Sunday’s Melbourne marathon earned record status on several counts - all of which Diver qualifies for. A course record for starters, Diver’s 2:25:19 also a six-minute improvement on her own previous record, and also the fastest women’s marathon time ever recorded in Australia outside of the Sydney Olympics.

It also makes her the second fastest Irish woman in history, behind Catherina McKiernan’s Irish record of 2:22:23, set in 1998, and earned her a personal record payday of AUS$40,000 - significantly more than her previous combined earnings.

Set against her own running background there may be other records too: now aged 41, Diver only began running eight years ago while on maternity leave, for purely social purposes. She took another year out to give birth a second time, and now believes she can run faster again than 2:25:19, ideally when qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.

By her own birthright, naturally, she first qualified to run for Ireland, home being Belmullet in west Mayo, before moving with her Limerick-born husband Colin to Melbourne in 2002, now also home to their two sons Eddie (8) and Dara (5).

Sinead Diver competes for Australia in the Women’s Marathon at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for IAAF
Sinead Diver competes for Australia in the Women’s Marathon at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for IAAF

“Coming out here there was no running whatsoever, no,” Diver explains, having lost nothing whatsoever of her west of Ireland accent. “Growing up in Belmullet we were always running around, up and down the coast. At school I played basketball and soccer, then did PE at the University of Limerick, but I just never got into the running properly, no-one else I knew was into it.

“So it wasn’t something I ever thought about until I came to Australia, just because it wasn’t as easy to do other sports, not knowing as many people. Running is such an easy thing to do, and that’s how it started.”

Her older sister Grainne, already a Melbourne resident, first lured her into a corporate run around the Tan, the famous city loop, where having had no training Diver ran something a record time: “After maternity leave with Eddie, I won the Australia half marathon, then decided we’d have another child, and after Dara was born I decided with my coach (Tim Crosbie) to run the marathon. My first marathon was Melbourne, in 2014, and finished second. I didn’t expect that, but was delighted.”

Not long after that she qualified for the marathon at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, the only problem being Athletics Ireland had made their own tougher standard, 45 seconds faster than Diver’s best.

“We were in touch with Athletics Ireland, but they’d made their qualifying standard faster, which meant I couldn’t go. They didn’t send anyone in the end, but I was 38 by then, already 14, 15 years in Australia (and with dual citizenship since 2009), and when they gave me the opportunity to run for them I absolutely jumped at it. What an honour to run a World Championships.”

The diplomatic suggestion, in other words, is that things might have been different: “No regrets, really. I didn’t get the opportunity to run for Ireland at the time. It wasn’t like I had to choose between the two. I was given the opportunity to run for Australia, and my only other option was to hang on a few years, see would I qualify again, But when you’re 38, you can’t think that far ahead.”

After missing the Rio Olympics with injury, Diver also ran the 2017 World Championship marathon in London, finishing 20th, this time in front of family and friends from both Ireland and Australia. Afterwards she said it felt like representing two countries.

“It’s true, because I have such a strong allegiance to both countries. Ireland will always be home for me, I spent the first 25 years of my life there, in Australia 16 years now, have family and friends here too. It’s a very unusual situation, I suppose. Missing Rio through injury, that was upsetting, and why I’m so gung-ho for Tokyo now.”

No-one can question her commitment either: without any funding, and still working a three-day week in IT, Diver runs up to 180km a week in training, beginning at 5.30am, joining up with the elite Melbourne Track Club where possible. Suitably exhausted yet elated from her effort on Sunday, thoughts are already turning to Tokyo. Athletics Ireland never made contact again after 2015.

“Qualifying for Australia, running as an Irish woman. Oh yeah, no matter what, that would always be the case . . .”

Before her voice trails off, with another hint of what might have been.

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