Louise Shanahan makes late charge to book place on plane for Tokyo Olympics
Louise Shanahan will head to Tokyo having achieved an Olympic ambition three years early.
The 24-year-old Trinity College student has earned selection for the Athletics Ireland team for the Games, and will compete in the 800m.
During the winter, Shanahan’s hope was to race at the World Student Games this summer. But a successful indoor campaign and the World Student Games being postponed until 2022 meant the targets changed.
“I was maybe aiming for Paris 2024, and then I ran quite a good indoor season and Tokyo was possibly on the cards, but it was a big ask so it’s all happened really quickly to be honest but I’m just delighted,” said Shanahan.
“It was an extremely big ask and because of the travel restrictions and the way the new ranking system is set up, it looked like while it might be theoretically possible to qualify,
the practicalities of actually
getting enough ranking points were beyond me.”
At the start of June, Shanahan made the decision to chase the points required to reach the Ireland team, but they were based on finishing position, time and the quality of the race, and not enough events in the UK carried the necessary bonus points.
A PhD researcher in quantum physics who uses nano-diamonds to measure the temperature inside human cells to see how radiation can be reduced in the diagnostic part of cancer treatment, she gained her supervisor’s backing and left the UK to race in Prague, Geneva and Ireland.
“After the second race in Switzerland, I came back to Cambridge and literally while I was in the air the Olympic rankings came out so I landed to many, many phone calls,” said Shanahan on securing her place.
“There were so many messages on my phone that I couldn’t get it to operate to look at the rankings so I just had to trust all the messages coming in that I had qualified.”
The qualifying period stretched back to 2019, but all five of Shanahan's results that earned her a place on the plane came from 2021, a sign of what has been a whirlwind year.
“I didn’t have the luxury of sitting on one or two nice times, everything has happened in the past four months," she said.
"“There are quite a few athletes who had the standards months or years out who knew they were going, I definitely don’t fall into that category.
“In fact, I think it has come as a complete shock to absolutely everyone.
“My parents really support me, but I was talking to my mum last week and I said, ‘at what stage did you think I could actually qualify for the Olympics?’. She said, ‘Honestly, Friday’, and I said, ‘Mum, I qualified on Wednesday,’ and she said, ‘I know, I didn’t think that was true until Friday!’.
“I’ve always taken athletics really seriously, but I was aiming for Paris 2024 and I think it has come as a shock to everyone around me - they almost don’t know what to do, but I’m absolutely delighted."
She added: “I want to compete to the very best of my ability when I’m out there but absolutely no-one expected me to qualify for this Olympics so I think I have exceeded expectations by just getting there.
“I will compete to the best of my ability out there and I would love to come away with a PB. But I have already out-performed to make it there.”
Shanahan will head to Tokyo in good form, having set a Varsity Match record in the 800m last week with 2min 6.87sec to win the Susan Dennler Trophy for the best performance in the women’s match on a successful day for Cambridge University.
Sam Clarke, the Cambridge men's captain, won all three hurdle races - 110m, 200m and 400m - and the Achilles Trophy for outstanding contribution to Oxbridge athletics as Cambridge men beat Oxford 123-85.
In the women's Varsity Match, Cambridge triumphed 107.5 - 95.5.
In the second team events, Cambridge Alligators won 16-2 against Oxford Millipedes in the women's event and the men's match between Cambridge Alverstone's and Oxford's Centipedes was drawn 10-10.
Oxford's Jude Bright-Davies won the Drake-Digby Trophy for the best performance in the men's match with a competition record of 15.89m in the triple jump.
Harry Cox won the Le Touquet Trophy for the most improved athlete during the 2020-21 season, Phoebe Baggott won the Paul Gomme Trophy for best throwing performance of the season, having set a Varsity Match record of 53.66m in the hammer.