2018 Berlin Diary: In praise of Laviai Nielsen

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Stuart Weir wrote this piece about Laviai Nielsen, who ran two PBs in Berlin so far in the 400 meters, and has battled runners much faster that her, to run the fastest qualifying times of the week so far.

Stuart Weir met Laviai on a bus coming back from a meet, and they actually spoke. Amazing what can happen on a bus.

Here's Stuart's column on this fine young British quarter miler.

Lavinia Nielsen, 400m skysports.jpgLaviai Nielson, photo courtesy of Skysports.com

In praise of Laviai Nielsen

It is always nice to see a courageous piece of running rewarded. It is doubly nice when the athlete concerned is a thoroughly nice person. I first met Laviai when I interviewed her at the World Relays in the Bahamas in April 2017. In London 2017, I took the athlete bus back to the hotel one night and sat next to her. Sometimes when one sits next to an athlete, the phone comes out, the head-set goes on, to communicate clearly no conversation is wanted. Lavaia, however, chatted to me all the way back to the hotel.

Ranked outside the top 12 in Europe with a PR of 51.70, she had to run the preliminary round this week. She was drawn on the outside lane but went out hard, kept going and won in a PR of 51.67. Now, as I wrote in a previous post, requiring some athletes to run two races to get the final and others just one is blatantly unfair. To put the heat winner in the outside lane in the semi-final is ridiculous.

Nielsen went off hard in the semi-final but then found on the back straight that she was being overtaken. Did she panic? Not a bit of it, but kept to her race plan. With 30 meters to go she was not in an automatic qualifying position but suddenly found the speed and strength to finish first. It was a win, a new and enormous PR of 51.21 and the fastest time of anyone in the three semi-finals. That was how I saw her race, but I am sure you are more interested in her perception.

"I could still feel the PB from yesterday in my legs, but I knew I was able to run faster. I knew it was going to be difficult to run in these conditions, and in lane 8. On the other hand, I was able to concentrate and do my own race. Having trained in Dubai and Portugal really helped with getting used to these temperatures.

"I knew coming into the home straight they would all come at me, in lane 8 you have to run blind until the finish so when they all came at me I knew I had an extra gear and that's what makes me competitive so I just had to trust my finish.

"I have to thank my coach for that as she makes me do so many tempo runs. We've been training a bit differently this year, focussing on my speed then coming back with a bit of endurance towards the end of the session

Finally five Things you might not know about Laviai

1 Her name is pronounced La-vee-aa. She puts it on her Twitter account to help followers.

2 At the London 2012 Olympics Laviai was a kit carrier, assigned to Jess Ennis-Hill.

3 Her home in London is 5 minutes from the London Olympic stadium

4 Her breakthrough came at the European Juniors in Eskilstuna, Sweden in 2015 when she won gold in the individual 400m and the relay.

5 She has a twin sister, Lina, also an international athlete. One day, at secondary school, the twins swapped classes to see if they could get away with it: "Lina was very confident in school and I wasn't. So when I got into her class, I was petrified that we would be found out, so I picked up a book and tried to hide my face with it so that the teacher couldn't tell what was going on. After 5 minutes the teacher said: 'That's not Lina'. I said: 'how could you tell?' He was like 'because Lina never picks up a book'. So we got caught out more or less straight away!"

642628072.jpgLaviai Nielson (inside) , Muller Birmingham Indoor GP, February 2017, photo courtesy of British Athletics

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