Athletics: AAI raise the bar for junior hopefuls
PROOF of the new ultra-competitive broom sweeping through Athletics Ireland (AAI) has been underlined by the strict qualification standards they have set for next summer's World Junior Championships.
The International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) standards for next July's U-20 Championships in Barcelona include 47.95 and 1:51.00 for men's 400m and 800m respectively.
But AAI have gone one step further by adapting the IAAF qualification marks as their basic 'B' standards ('entry level') and setting even harder 'A' standards for the country's top youngsters.
Athletics Ireland's world junior 'A' standards for 400m/800m/1,500m have been set at 46.95/1:48.35/3:46.30, all considerably faster than the IAAF's.
In the case of women's 1,500m the Irish 'A' standard is 4:19.85, over eight seconds faster than the IAAF's (4:28), while the 'A' mark that AAI have set for women's 3,000m (9:25) is a full 10 seconds faster.
This is not unprecedented, but it marks new efforts by Athletics Ireland to ensure that athletes travelling to major championships in future give themselves a serious chance of making their finals at least.
The home federation has stated firmly that their objective, at this level, is "to select individual athletes capable of obtaining a podium or top-eight to 12 finish."
They came up with their 'A' standards by studying the top-eight to 12 performances at the last three World Junior Championships.
Athletics Ireland are obviously looking to raise the bar, but eyebrows have already been raised by some junior athletes and coaches, who view some of these standards as extremely high.
In men's 400m, for example, only three Irish athletes, all of them seniors (Brian Gregan, Brian Murphy and David Gillick), met that U-20 'A' standard last summer.
Similarly, only five Irish men met the 1:48.35 800m standard this year, though most of those were rising underage stars, including Letterkenny's Mark English with his new Irish junior record of 1:47.09.
Elsewhere, there were no surprises in the team announced for the European Cross-Country Championships in Slovenia on December 11.
Fionnuala Britton, second behind two Ethiopians last week and fourth at the Europeans last year, will lead the challenge.
New senior inter-county champion Sara Louise Treacy will race in a two-woman U-23 team with Britton's sister Una.
The first five senior men across the line at last weekend's inter-county championship, led by defending champion Joe Sweeney (DSD), have also got the nod while fourth-placed Michael Hulhare (North Laois), the only one still underage from the Irish team who sensationally won gold at U-23 level last year, will lead an U-23 selection.
Ciara Mageean and Shane Quinn both miss out with injuries, so DSD's Siofra Cleirigh Buttner and Mullingar's Jake Byrne will lead the full junior teams.
Elsewhere, Coachford CC's Eric Stam and Maryfield's Sarah McCarthy will lead an Irish team at the annual Schools' Combined Events International at the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow tomorrow.
And anyone still looking for a ticket for next year's Paralympics should log on to www.tickets.london2012.com today with the last block of tickets due to be released.
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