Triathlete Carolyn Hayes was late starting her qualification process for the Olympic Games, but the 33-year-old Limerick doctor is making a remarkable late surge that might just carry her all the way to Tokyo.
The qualification period for the triathlon runs over a two-year period. The first block was from May 2018 to May 2019. The second window should have been from May 2019 to May 2020 but the Covid-19 pandemic delayed things by a year. It's only now that things are coming to the boil.
Each athlete can count their best six races in each qualification period towards qualification, with points accrued in accordance with results. These points count towards your world ranking.
World Cup events and the World Triathlon Series offer opportunities to gather Olympic points. In Lisbon last Sunday, Hayes took a massive step towards making the Games when she earned a superb second place at the World Cup triathlon event. It was a brilliant effort that leaves her in the driving seat to make the plane for Japan.
"There were so many big names on that start list. I just wanted to see where I was after the long lay-off with Covid," she told RTÉ Sport.
"I just wanted to go for it. I'm thrilled and delighted I went for it. I just committed.
"I didn't expect to be on the podium when I saw those names but at the same time I knew I'd worked really hard and the training was there, that I was capable of producing a great performance. I'm a little bit tired today... but it was definitely worth it!"
. @1cmhayes speaks to @worldtriathlon yesterday after her outstanding performance in Portugal!— Triathlon Ireland (@tri_ireland) May 24, 2021
Watch til the end for a cúpla focal as Gaeilge🙌☘
Don't forget you can rewatch the entire race on https://t.co/7D4pWK2DfQ!#LisbonWC #TeamIreland @TeamIreland pic.twitter.com/t9pzA20Rfu
Hayes' work commitments meant she had to play a bit of catch-up. There have been sacrifices, but she's loathe to describe them as such.
"I'm from Newcastlewest in Co Limerick. My coaches Gavin Noble and Eanna McGrath are based in Co Wicklow and Base2Race in Dublin. To make the Olympic dream a reality I had to commit completely.
"I moved to Wicklow. I live with a family there, Yvonne and Liam Williams. I train in Greystones and also at Base To Race. Through Sport Ireland I've been able to continue my swimming at the National Aquatic Centre.
"All I want is to go to the Olympics. Every day I get up I'm thinking of that. By moving to Wicklow and having Eanna and Gavin, I see them daily. Probably the last two years I've seen my coach every single day. We're both extremely driven. The weekend was extra special to be able to share that with him.
"I don't know if I look on it as a sacrifice. I feel very fortunate to be able to chase this dream. I guess I'm very lucky that I have my career set up for when I do step away from triathlon. I have to say I've had incredible support from the Irish Medical Council and the College of Anaesthesiologists.
"Triathlon in general is an incredible sport. You meet great people. I'm incredibly fortunate and lucky to be able to do this. I know I couldn't do it without the support of everyone - family, friends sponsors. I really appreciate it so much. I hope it will pay off. It's up to me to make sure that it does."
"All I want is to go to the Olympics. Every day I get up I'm thinking of that."
Hayes is now completely focused on getting over the line as she prepares for a huge three weeks.
"After the result in Lisbon at the weekend I've moved my ranking up from 52nd in the world to 39th," she added.
"I wanted 300 points and I came away with 463. It's a nice safety buffer and I just hope it might be enough to see me there. I know that I have to continue racing.
"World Triathlon decided to open up qualification for the Olympics at the start of this month. They have five races that would contribute to Olympic ranking so some athletes are having to do five races in five different countries.
"I'd put my name down to be one of those athletes but I'm hoping I maybe only have to do three of the five races. Japan was the first race, Lisbon was the second, there's a race this weekend in Sardinia, then the next big race for me that I'm going to do will be the World Triathlon Series in Leeds which is taking place on 6 and 7 June.
"The final race before qualification closes will be in Huatulco in Mexico. That's on 14 June. When those races are done nobody can do anything else to get their Olympic slot. There's a lot on the line."