Lille, FranceTwo years ago, an article in the Irish Times described Irish walker Kate Veale as, “remarkably graceful as she glides over the ground.”
Well, that grace was transformed into a gold medal around her neck as the 17-year-old from Waterford strode purposefully but elegantly away from the rest of the world in the girls 5000m Race Walk field at the IAAF World Youth Championships on Friday (8).
Veale clocked 21:45.59 to finish nearly 15 seconds ahead of her nearest rival.
Not only was the time the best by a youth walker for almost two years, it also reduced her own national record almost 50 seconds and minted Ireland’s first ever gold medal at the World Youth Championships.
In fact, Veale has been setting Irish records almost every time she crossed the line since the start of the year, improving national youth or junior marks in seven of her eight races since the start of 2011 to add to the seven she also notched up in 2010.
Below the radar
However, anyone not paying attention to what had been happening in the world of youth and junior race walking might have discarded the chances of Veale in Lille, despite the fact that she finished fourth over the same distance at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore last August.
She has not raced over 5000m since her outing half way across the world from her home in the Irish country of Waterford and went to Lille with no recorded time for the distance as she has concentrated on the longer distance of 10km this summer, at which her best now stands at 46:32 after her bronze medal at the European Cup Race Walking in Portugal on May 21 when competing against walkers up to two years older, including several outstanding Russian competitors.
“However, my training has all been geared towards the World Youths, the World Youths has always been my main target as it’s my last year in the category,” confirmed Veale despite dabbling with the longer distance.
“My inspiration is my coach and club mate Jamie Costin. He’s been to the Olympics and also the World Championships four times, and he made sure I peaked just right,” she added.
Into the bargain, Friday’s victory meant that Veale got her revenge, although Veale appears to be too nice to use that word in a sporting context herself, on the three women that finished in front of her in Singapore last summer - where she was the Irish team’s flag bearer - and kept her off the podium.
China’s Yanxue Mao and Russia’s Nadezdha Leontyeva finished second and third on that occasion and had to settle for the same positions in Lille while the Italian Youth Olympic Games champion Anna Clemente came home down in eighth place on Friday.
Veale’s next race is likely to be over 10km on the roads at the European Athletics Junior Championships in Tallinn in two weeks time.
In the Estonian capital, she will probably face the two people who beat her - the impressive Russian dup of Yelena Lashmanova, 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships gold medallist and Veale’s predecessor as world youth champion, and Svetlana Vasilyeva - in the Algarve town of Olhao seven weeks ago.
Lucky 13 for Irish walking
Like many walkers, Veale actually started as a runner and still regularly competes in cross country events in Ireland, just has she has done since the age of eight.
“I like cross country running and it helps my walking but now I’m solely concentrating on walking for championships,” explained Veale, to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation about where her heart now lies.
With her endurance background, she embarked on her walking career as a 13-year-old following a suggestion from Br Patrick Lennon, a teacher at her school St Augustine’s in Dungarvan.
Initially, she just received regular texts of encouragement from Costin, who is a member of the same West Waterford club and who gave her advice on her walking style.
However, in the wake of her winning the under 15 3km Race Walk at the European Five Nations Cup in Switzerland in October 2008, Costin has had much more prominent role in her development.
Seeing the way that she tore apart a field that included some very accomplished youth walkers in Lille, he clearly has had a very positive influence.
The World Gold Council earlier this year has estimated that Ireland’s reserves of the precious metal stand at around six tonnes but on Thursday that figure increased by a few ounces and if Veale continues on her winning ways it could lead to the international organisation revising its figure upwards rather radically in the near future
Phil Minshull for the IAAF