Athletics: 'European Cup' can bring stars to Ireland
TOP-CLASS international athletics will return to these shores in a year's time after Athletics Ireland's successful bid to host the 2013 European Team Championships (First League).
Apart from the Cork City Sports (July 17 this year), few Irish events can attract high-quality foreign athletes, so hosting what used to be called the 'European Cup' should prove a big attraction next June.
Ireland last hosted this competition in 1997 but the event is not taking place this summer because the European Championships have just gone biennial.
Changes made to its format recently -- including combining a nation's men's and women's scores for final standings -- have made it a particularly spectator-friendly event.
Ireland currently compete in what is technically Europe's second tier (the 'Superleague' includes the likes of Britain, Russia and France) but there will still be plenty of world-class athletes involved in visiting teams from Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland.
Meanwhile, Fionnuala Britton's coach Chris Jones marked another milestone this week as he was recognised with a European Athletic Association coaching award.
Jones is also head of High Performance at Triathlon Ireland where two more of his charges -- Aileen Morrison and Gavin Noble -- have qualified for the Olympics.
And Noble was on hand yesterday to help launch this year's Waterways Ireland 'Triathlone' on Saturday, June 30.
Noble won the inaugural Triathlone in 2006 and has won it twice since, including last year, but he won't be around to defend his title this month because he will be in Spain for a three-week pre-Olympic training camp.
"Even though I'm from Enniskillen, I regard Athlone as home," he enthused. "In a lot of big towns and cities the public can negotiate their way around a triathlon, but in Athlone, you simple cannot avoid it, which is partly why athletes love competing there.
"They literally close down the town for the event. Everyone gets involved and it's like a whole weekend festival with a very special atmosphere."
This year's event includes relays and the Try-A-Tri, Sprint and Olympic distances, plus an inaugural Paratriathlon -- and the Irish Independent will be carrying the full results.
Elsewhere, the Irish team for the upcoming European T&F Championships (Helsinki, June 27-July 1) will be announced next Tuesday, and Derval O'Rourke is among those expected to skip it to concentrate all her energy on the Olympics.