Storm survivor has bouncy spring in her step

GREG FORD
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2013
Lucy Van Dalen
LAWRENCE SMITH/ Fairfax
COOL: Lucy van Dalen takes things in her stride.

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Amid the hue and cry at last year's Olympics when it was discovered Val Adams had not been entered in the shot put, it also came to light that 1500m runner Lucy van Dalen's name was missing from the start sheet too.

But Adams' moral outrage, and Van Dalen's low profile, meant her name became a footnote in the most controversial moment of the Games. If her view on the shambles was sought at the time, it got lost in the clutter.

Speaking from her hometown Whanganui before she was due to arrive in Christchurch today for tomorrow's international track meet, Van Dalen reflected on how she was thrust into the middle of the Adams maelstrom.

The first she learnt of her (temporary) exclusion from the Olympics was on the eve of her 1500m heat. A team manager phoned to explain there had been a clerical error and that the paperwork to ensure her entry in the 1500m contained errors.

"It was explained to me what the situation was and how it would be fixed within a couple of hours. It was unusual . . . but I got a call a few hours later to say all was in order and I didn't give it any further thought."

Adams' reaction was completely different.

She huffed and puffed and very nearly blew the New Zealand Olympic Committee's house down.

Chef de mission Dave Currie was cast as the big bad wolf and big Val went on to dish the dirt in a follow-up book.

For the record Van Dalen hasn't read the book and was largely unaware of the hue and cry at the time, a credit to her and Adams, who was savvy enough not to drag other athletes into her quest for "accountability".

That was no mean feat considering Adams and Van Dalen shared a room together in London.

The latter was a sore point, too, for Adams, who wanted a room to herself in London, befitting a senior athlete in the team.

Again, though, that seemed to sail over Van Dalen's head.

Rooming with bolshie Val was one of the highlights of her Games.

Ignorance is indeed bliss and the little known middle distance runner went on to more than meet her pre-Games aspirations when she qualified for the Olympic semifinals. She clocked a respectable 4min 6.97sec in her second and last race of the Games and the experience whet her appetite for more.

She is now eyeing qualification for this year's world championships, next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and, of course, what would be her second Olympics in Rio in 2016.

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Time is on her side.

Van Dalen is 24 and after graduating last year from Stony Brook University in the United States she is now pursuing a career as a professional runner.

She isn't paid appearance fees, gets little support from Sport New Zealand, and survives on sponsorship support, a modest travel allowance from Athletics New Zealand and income from prizemoney (if she finishes in the top three at major track meets).

It's a cut-throat existence, which is one of the reasons she enjoys coming to places like Christchurch to run. Her grandparents lived here when she was still at Wanganui Collegiate "and I used to visit regularly. It felt like a second home".

Running on grass at Christ's College, as opposed to QEII, where she competed at national championships, will be a new experience, she said.

"But it is nice to run in different places.

"I like coming and meeting local athletes and running with the younger ones as Nick [Willis] and I plan to do on Sunday at some stage and there's also a little more expectation on me now that more people know who I am and expect me to win races when I run here in New Zealand."

Chances are she'll do that and more tomorrow.

Van Dalen will run in the 3000m against Dutch star Susan Kuijken, a triple medallist at NCAA level in the US college system.

Local interest will centre on Rebekah Greene, of Otago, who was seventh in the 3000m at last year's junior world championship, and multiple New Zealand secondary schools champion Rosa Flanagan, of Canterbury.

- Canterbury

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