Little-known New Zealand 1500m runner Lucy Van Dalen has capped a dramatic week of improvements to cement a place in the Olympics after bettering the A standard in San Diego yesterday.
The performance came a week after double Commonwealth Games medallist Nikki Hamblin was forced out of Games contention with an Achilles tendon injury.
Van Dalen's time of 4 minutes 5.76 seconds came within a second of Hamblin's New Zealand record, ranks her 28th in the world for 2012 and moved her to No 2 on the all-time list for New Zealand athletes. She surged past some of New Zealand's best-known distance runners and previous New Zealand 1500m record holders Anne Audain, Dianne Rodger, Anne Hare, Lorraine Moller, Christine Pfitzinger and Toni Hodgkinson.
Van Dalen' progress in a week has been nothing short of remarkable.
Last week the former Wanganui athlete who is 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 Olympic team.
She needed to run 4 minutes 7 seconds, or the IAAF A standard of 4 minutes 6 seconds if Hamblin was running, to come into Olympics contention. Hamblin's withdrawal meant Van Dalen needed to reach the slower of the two times to be nominated by Athletics New Zealand.
Last Saturday in New Jersey, Van Dalen took 3.5 seconds off her previous best running 4 minutes 8.10 seconds. Yesterday she sliced another 2.3 seconds off that and put her within touching distance of Hamblin's New Zealand record of 4 minutes 4.82 seconds, set in Spain last July.
The 23-year-old still needs to be nominated by Athletics New Zealand and ratified by the New Zealand Olympic Committee, who require athletes to be capable of finishing inside the top 16, but that seems a formality given her rapid improvement.
She had planned an attempt to qualify in the 5000m in France just before the qualifying period ends, having run close to the 5000m revised London standard of 15 minutes 20 seconds in California in April. These plans are likely to change now she is in the frame for the 1500m.