Lucy Van Dalen has capped a dramatic week of improvements to grab an Olympic qualifying performance over 1500 metres in San Diego today, running 4 minutes 5.76 seconds.
Coming less than a week after Commonwealth double medallist Nikki Hamblin was cruelly forced out of Games contention with an Achilles tendon injury, the former Wanganui athlete has stepped into Hamblin's shoes and come within a second of her New Zealand record. The time ranks Van Dalen 28th in the world for 2012.
"I'm absolutely stoked, I couldn't be happier really. It was an amazing race to be in, there were six of us girls who were going for a fast time," van Dalen told Radio Sport.
"I couldn't have been in a better race really, I feel blessed to have got the a standard, it's really exciting."
A week ago, Van Dalen, currently based in the US at Stony Brook University in New York had a personal best of 4 minutes 11.59 seconds for the distance and was at best, a long shot to make the New Zealand Olympic team, needing to run 4 minutes 7 seconds, or the IAAF A standard of 4 minutes 6 seconds if Hamblin was running. With Hamblin's withdrawal, Van Dalen just needed to reach the slower of the two times to get nominated by Athletics New Zealand.
Last Saturday in New Jersey, Van Dalen took a big 3.5 seconds off her previous best running 4 minutes 8.10 seconds. This latest race has sliced another 2.3 seconds from that and she has moved to number 2 on the all-time New Zealand list, just behind Hamblin's New Zealand record of 4 minutes 4.82 seconds, set in Spain last July.
Van Dalen has surged past some of New Zealand's best known distance runners and previous New Zealand 1500 metres record holders Anne Audain, Dianne Rodger, Anne Hare, Lorraine Moller, Christine Pfitzinger and Toni Hodgkinson.
Based for the last four years at Stony Brook University in New York, the 23 year old former Wanganui Collegiate student had earlier this year won the US NCAA Indoor 1500 metres title and finished fourth two weeks ago at the NCAA outdoor championships.
Athletics coach Alec McNab coached Van Dalen and her twin sister Holly during their time at Wanganui Collegiate and told Radio Sport today he wasn't surprised by her success.
"She's actually been running very consistently for some time and she did actually win the NCAA indoor mile in February which is a good indicator that she's competitive, although it's true to say that her times have improved incredibly this week. So she's obviously in the right sort of form," McNab said.
"She won the New Zealand Schools and her time was 4:31 and I know in the first year she ran in the 4:20s and if you go through it and start looking at their progression it's been pretty steady and certainly last year they had pretty consistent performances."
She had been planning an attempt to qualify in the 5000 metres in France just before the qualifying period ends, having run close the 5000 metres revised London standard of 15 minutes 20 seconds in California in April. These plans may well change now she is likely to be selected in the 1500 metres.
Lucy and Holly, who is an accomplished athlete with personal bests 4:18 for 1500 metres and 15:44 seconds for 5000m are coached by former Irish Olympian Andy Ronan.
Although they have finished at Stony Brook and are likely to be based in New Zealand or Australia, they are likely to keep training under Ronan's guidance.
Van Dalen's selection still needs to be ratified by the NZOC, but should be a formality given that she has reached the A standard qualifying mark.