independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Athletics: Hooper hits out at hike in 'A' standard

Fionnuala Britton, who begins her indoor season in Germany tomorrow, could be among those bidding to make the new qualifying standard for the marathon in this year's World Championships

'Marathon Mission,' set up to try to bring Irish standards back up to the level of its heyday, has lambasted Athletics Ireland's qualifying standards for this summer's World Championships.

The IAAF has set a flat 2:17 men's qualifying mark, but AAI have made that their 'B' standard and set 2:13 as the 'A' standard, which is two minutes faster than last summer's Olympic 'A' standard of 2.15.

"I cannot understand the rationale of creating a new 'A' and 'B' standard when the IAAF went with 2:17," said former Olympic marathoner Dick Hooper.

He is one of the founders of the 'Marathon Mission,' which was given credit for helping one Irishman and four women achieve the 'A' standard for London 2012. "We are trying to rebuild the marathon tradition here in Ireland and had made some strides.

"Getting people to the Olympics was just phase one of the exercise, but we were making progress," added Hooper, a 2:12 runner in his prime, whose training initiative holds its latest group session at Donore Harriers tomorrow.

"The last year showed that the tide is starting to rise, but setting an 'A' standard like that could kill it. You have to set attainable targets or you'll turn people off."

In the Olympics, no 'B' athletes can compete if the country produces 'A' standards, but AAI's high performance director Kevin Ankrom has clarified that this does not apply at this summer's Worlds and explained his rationale for having such a tough 'A' standard.

"Even if we have a couple of 'A' standards, we can also send a 'B' athlete. Technically there are five marathon places available and we will be guided by form," he said.

He judged the 2:17 standard as "soft" compared to many of the qualification standards on track and said he had hardened the marathon – and the 50km and 20km walks – "to try to give some parity of opportunity" between Ireland's road and track athletes.

Tallaght AC's Sean Connolly has also criticised AAI's decision. "Considering only one Irishman (Mark Carroll) has broken 2:13 in the last 20 years I don't understand it," he said. Connolly (2:16.42) was the second fastest Irishman, after Mark Kenneally (2:13.55), in last year's bid for Olympic qualification, but didn't make it. A recently-qualified primary school teacher in Stockport, he said his lifestyle makes achieving 2:13 extremely difficult.

" Athletics Ireland has got to be realistic," he said. "When someone in a club gets to represent Ireland, it is a massive thing. That could inspire another 10 or 12 kids to take up athletics or work harder, the knock-on effect is huge. What kind of a message is this sending out to clubs?"

AAI has also hardened the IAAF women's qualification standard (2:43) – which Hooper accepted was lenient – to 2:32 ('A') and 2:36 ('B'). Four Irish women broke 2:36 last year.

Elsewhere, Fionnuala Britton will come up against Olympic 5,000m champion Meseret Defar in her indoor season opener in Karlsruhe, Germany, tomorrow, while Ciaran O'Lionaird opens his season in a 3,000m in Boston.

Britton's burning desire to have a team supporting her at the World Cross-Country championships in March has taken a sudden turn for the better.

AAI had been lukewarm about sending a team to Poland, but it seems the excellent form shown by North Sligo's Mary Cullen last weekend, in her first race in 18 months, has forced a major rethink by AAI.

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