AAI plan to put women's relay team on track for Olympics
LINDA Byrne's performance at the Dublin Marathon made her the 12th Irish athlete to obtain the 'A' qualification standard for the London Olympics.
And, in an effort to increase our participation at the 2012 games, Athletics Ireland (AAI) are putting the finishing touches to a plan to ensure that a women's 4x400m team joins them.
When the AAI's high performance director Kevin Ankrom visited the Sports Council earlier this week, he outlined their new relay initiative and looked for funding to support it.
Details of the plan will be revealed in the coming weeks, but it will involve recruiting up to eight 400m athletes whose coaches must allow them attend collective training and travel to international races.
Getting into decent races is a key part of the strategy and it is understood that AAI have already secured a lane at next year's prestigious Penn Relays in America.
A women's 4x400m team comprising Joanne Cuddihy, Marian Andrews-Heffernan, Michelle Carey and Claire Bergin knocked over two seconds off the Irish record they had set a year earlier when running 3:27.48 at the World Championships last summer.
The top 16 teams in the world will qualify for the Olympics, based on an aggregate of two runs, and Ireland's women finished last summer ranked 12th.
Rising young 400m hurdlers like Waterford's Jessie Barr and Ulster's Joanna Mills look set to be approached to join the squad, which the AAI wants to extend to eight athletes to cover every eventuality.
Paul Hession (200m), Derval O'Rourke (100m hurdles), Ciaran O'Lionaird (800m), Alistair Cragg (5,000m), Deirdre Ryan (high-jump), walkers Olive Loughnane, Robert Heffernan and Brendan Boyce and marathoners Mark Kenneally and Byrne have already got the Olympic standard.
So, too, have Wicklow steeplechasers Fionnuala Britton and Stephanie O'Reilly, with the former among a small team of Irish athletes going to the IAAF Cross de Atapuerca in Burgos, Spain on Sunday.
Also racing in Spain are Dan and Michael Mulhare (North Laois) and Mark Hanrahan (Leevale).
The Mulhares' sister Mary is among a largely junior team going to the McCain UK Cross Challenge in Bristol on Sunday, which includes Kate Veale, the talented Waterford walker who won the World Youth title last summer -- she is one of the nominees for tomorrow's National Athletics Awards in Santry.
Elsewhere Claire Tarplee, a Loughborough-based athlete who was a member of the 'On Camp with Kelly (Holmes)' project in Britain, has just switched her allegiance to run for Ireland.
Tarplee (23) was sixth in the 1500m when guesting at the Irish Championships last summer and has PBs of 2:05 and 4:14.