It was a day of very mixed emotions for three Irish marathon runners on the Mall in London – the finish area for the women’s Olympic Marathon which was won by Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia in 2:23.07, with Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya just a few strides behind in 2:23.12 and the Russian, Tatyana Arkhipova Petova, taking the bronze medal in 2:23.29.
And there were smiles on the faces of Irish competitors Linda Byrne and Ava Hutchinson when they finished in their respective 66th and 68th positions- Byrne finishing in 2:37.13 and Hutchinson not far behind in 2:37.17.
But there were tears of both pain and relief for Caitriona Jennings who filled the very last position in this Olympic event – finishing 107th in 3:22.11 –an amazing achievement when you consider that she ran the entire race suffering with a deeply painful Planterfaciitis foot injury that had troubled her for the past few weeks.
This was a performance laced with raw courage and determination and Jennings received rapturous and applause when she finally crossed the finish line to be greeted by Athletics Ireland Team Manager Patsy McGonagle.
“I picked up the injury a few weeks ago and because I was tapering down my training for the Olympic marathon, I did not have to run on it that much, “ a tearful Jennings said. “I could feel it when I was doing my strides before the start. I thought that I would get through with it but I suppose that a marathon is just a little long. I could not stop. I had so much support in the lead up to this and I would like to thank everyone who has supported me through this. Today was just amazing. I’m really sorry to everyone that it had to be such a bad performance. I really wanted to finish. I want to thank everyone who travelled over to support me. I thought that the adrenalin would carry me through, but obviously it didn’t.”
There was huge support and understanding for Jennings at the finish and much admiration for her battling spirit that fully embraced the true spirit of the Olympics.
“I could not have finished this race without the support of the crowd and the Irish and British support was amazing.”
“This was a very courageous finish for an athlete who had to run 15 miles in severe pain,” Athletics Ireland Team Manager Patsy McGonagle said. “This is the Olympic Games and you don’t come here and walk out at the first opportunity. Caitriona had to stop here on the Mall 15 kilometres . We took her shoe off and the bandage on her right leg, because it was hurting her. She put the shoe back on and ran the rest of the race without any bandage- a very brave and courageous performance indeed.”
Linda Byrne came smiling through to finish top of the Irish in the marathon and expressed her self pleased with her performance. “I was hoping for a personal best but the conditions were tough, “ she said. “I did not feel great coming on to the last lap and my DSD team mate Ava Hutchinson passed me then. I felt strong again in the last couple of miles and I was able to achieve one of goals- to finish first Irishwoman in the Olympic Marathon. The other goal was to set a personal best which did not happen but I am happy that I achieved one goal. The support was unbelievable and I really enjoyed the experience.”
Ava Hutchinson was also happy with her own Olympic experience. “I’ll never get anything like this again, “ she said. The support was as much for the Irish as the British support. You could hear people screaming, Ireland, Ireland, all the way. I felt good and my body held up well. It was a solid enough run. I would have liked it to be a bit quicker and I hope that Linda and myself can gain from this experience.”