I was more than pleasantly suprised to see Becky Lyne climb to number three on all-time on the U.K. 800m list this season, running no fewer than five sub-2 times, earning European Championships bronze, and setting the stage for a remarkable run at a possible medal at the 2007 IAAF World Track & Field Championships.
Lyne had a nearly impeccable outdoor campaign, finishing no lower than third in 10 of her 13 races, and running under 2.01 10 times. Two of her slowest times were in preliminary races - both victories, and her slowest, a 2.11,04, was the casualty of a nasty fall 500m into the European Cup in Malaga.
So remarkable and durable was Lyne's strength, that she was able to put up two sub-2 performances in the European Championships - a runner-up 1.59,11 in her semi-final, and a 1.58,45 - her second-fastest lifetime achievement - in the final behind Russians Olga Kotlyarova (1.57,38) and Svetlana Klyuka (1.57,48).
Lynne's success was long overdue, as she had run 2.01 five times in three years leading up to 2006 - a 2.01,26 runner-up at the BMC at Waterford in 2004 the quickest two-lap race she had managed to tuck under her belt.
Lyne had opportunity - prior to her remarkable 2006 breakthrough - to showcase her talents on an international stage, but failed to advance beyond the heats in the 2002 Commonwealth Games - her first major championships, running 2.05,26 for third place in heat three. Maria Mutola would go on to repeat as champion, running 1.57,35 - a Commonwealth Games record, and 0,25-seconds faster than she ran in 1998.
Lyne returned to the United States - where she was a student at Butler University, and made good on her potential in 2003, placing third at the NCAA Championships in Sacramento, CA, USA in 2.01,76 - her fastest time of the season, and a 0,69-second improvement over her previous best. Her performance was 0,01-seconds off the silver-medal performance turned in by LSU's Neisha Bernard-Thomas.
North Carolina's Alice Schmidt, who recorded three sub-2 performances (led by a 1.59,35) this season, won in 2.01,16.
Lyne placed no lower than third to any collegian in outdoor competition, moving up considerably from her failure to advance from heat 1 (2.10,05) at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA.
Lyne successfully built on that championship-level momentum, and won the European Under-23 title in Bydgoszcz, Poland in 2.04,66 over Slovakia's Lucia Klocová (2.05,02) and Spain's Esther Desviat (2.05,38).
Life for Lyne was at a crisp pinnacle, until she began suffering setbacks and injuries in 2004 as she attempted to translate her collegiate experience into elite-level performances.
I consider the mark of a champion how well they handle defeat - and bounce back from set-backs - as much as how they handle the pressure when they are on top.
Lyne had a small heap of adversity of which she would have to overcome between 2004 and the the winter of 2005, though she was yet an unknown to me here in Sweden.
"From the beginning of December through to about March I'd just struggled with injury after injury," Lyne told BBC Sport.
"So watching the Commonwealths and seeing our British girls do so well, it just felt like a million miles away from where I was at that time.
"It was quite a depressing time, so I'm really pleased that suddenly things seemed to turn around so fast."
Lyne considers her breakthrough race to have occured in Hengelo, a stop on the Grand Prix circuit which she had never previously been able to land, because meet organisers had rejected her entry.
Lyne won the Thales Fanny Blankers-Koen Games (also known as Hengelo) with a fantastic effort, running 2.00,04 over Klocová (2.00,90) - a mark which took 1,22 seconds from Lyne's previous personal best. She also handed Morocco's Amina Aït Hammou (2.01,10) and Slovenia's Birgitta Langerholc (2.02,21) defeats in the process.
Aït Hammou and Langerholc had previously broken 2.00 before 2006, with Olympian Aït Hammou having twice finished third in IAAF World Athletics Finals, and Langerholc - the 2001 NCAA 800m Champion (2.01,61) - having Olympic, World Championships, European Championships and World University Games experience under her belt.
"Hengelo is a race I've tried to get into in the past but been rejected from, but I ended up running this time and that was quite a shock and a real highlight.
"It's always special when you make a bit of a breakthrough. I realised then I could do something quite special that year."
Her rise to the top of the athletics scale culminated with her being named named Britain's Female athlete-of-the-year by the British Athletics Writers' Association along with Mo Farah, the men's recipient, who won the European Championships 5.000m silver here in Sweden in August, and was the recent winner of the European Cross Country Championships.
The Independent published a very good article on Lyne today (Read: Lyne of succession puts Becky in golden glow), outlining her setbacks, her challenges, and her outlook on 2007.
Lyne has focussed her training on improving in 2007, having taken advice from Kirsty Wade, second on the British all-time 800m list at 1.57,42, believes she can continue mounting a great run at a medal in Osaka, home to the 2007 IAAF World Track & Field Championships.
"Kirsty was really helpful, and Tony too," Lyne says in the interview.
"There was a two-pronged reason for me to go there. I wanted to have a little bit of a break at the end of the season - it's beautiful where they live - but I also wanted to see if I could get a bit of an insight into Kirsty's training and pick up any advice she could give me.
"She gave me a big pile of training diaries and it was a real eye-opener to see how hard she trained. It's been a bit of a motivation for me. I remember my old coach, Gordon Surtees, saying that he'd never seen anyone train as hard in a session as Kirsty and Paula Radcliffe."
Not only is Lyne following an established regime which worked for Wade, she - along with a few other British runners - will join an Australian training group her agent, Nic Bideau, has under his watchful eye in Melbourne.
Bideau coached Cathy Freeman to her spectacular gold medal in 2000 - in front of her home crowd, and coaches Craig Mottram, who set five personal bests, three Australian records and a world road best in 2006.
Lyne has terrific focus on her 2007 campaign, taking no competitors for granted. She has two personal weapons at her disposal this year which she had never taken into the start of a season, namely elite-level status and respect.
Lyne will skip the 2007 indoor season in preparation for the rigours of the outdoor session.
Here's hoping to an excellent showing along the way, with the focal point of the season - Tuesday, 28-August - a day Lyne will hope to remember for ages to come. She has demonstrated that she has a great resolve to overcome adversity and to shine when under the gun. She has two iron lungs and a powerful will. Let's hope a bit of luck turns her way as she takes a great leap forward against the best of the rest.
Lynne's top-five 2006 times:
- 1.58,20 (2) Gateshead, 11-June, British Grand Prix
- 1.58,45 (3) Göteborg, 10-August, European Championships
- 1.58,69 (2) London, 28-July, Norwich Union London Grand Prix
- 1.59,11 (2) Göteborg, 8-Aug, European Championships semi
- 1.59,73 (3) Bruxelles, 25-Aug, Ivo Van Damme Memorial