Athletics: Too late for London
AAI launch new plan -- but it won't help Irish hopes at 2012 Olympics
ATHLETICS Ireland (AAI) launched their latest high-performance strategy yesterday, admitting that it comes far too late for the London Olympics and will be dependent on sustained and improved funding during a time of deep recession.
The plan confirmed that AAI will not have a full-time 'director of athletics' in place until next January and that it will take the same amount of time to finalise a proper sports science network.
Questions will be raised about its funding, considering that the man brought in to lead it, high-performance consultant Chris Jones, has only been employed on a part-time basis -- for 75 days in 2010 to be exact.
Jones confirmed that Ireland's top hopes for London 2012 will be unaffected by the plan as they, largely, already have their own independent support systems in place. But he remained optimistic that others will quickly benefit, especially those looking to the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.
Jones was one of the candidates short-listed for AAI's 'director of athletics' job after the Beijing Games, a position that was never filled because of wranglings with the Sports Council.
That, along with AAI's internal boardroom problems that saw them dragged through the High Court recently, contributed to a lamentable hiatus in athletics' high-performance planning for the past 18 months. But AAI CEO John Foley stressed yesterday that they want to put past problems behind them and that this marks the first step.
Jones was Great Britain's triathlon coach for the Sydney and Athens Olympics. He remains the performance director for Triathlon Ireland, which is also a part-time role, but has quit his other consultancy work with several sports in Wales (where he still lives) to concentrate on Irish athletics.
The new strategy favours domestic training hubs -- in partnership with third-level institutions -- with squad and regional training groups.
And Jones stressed that quality coaches, not facilities, are what Ireland needs to focus on.
West Waterford's Olympic race-walker Jamie Costin best summarised reaction to the plan by saying: "We've had a few incarnations of high-performance plans before but they haven't been fully implemented.
"The difference with this one is that Athletics Ireland, the Sports Council and the Institute of Sport all seem to be working together this time. If there's the proper support and trust between athletes and the federation it should work."
One encouraging development is the inclusion of Galway blood profiling specialist Dr Brian Moore on the sports science side.
All involved conceded that the plan will need serious funding and Foley said he was encouraged by an eight to nine per cent rise in AAI's membership last year. He pledged to find new revenue streams and confirmed that AAI are exploring how to financially harness the latest road-racing explosion.
One such race, the Spar Great Ireland Run, will attract 10,500 to the Phoenix Park on Sunday (1.0) and, for the first time, incorporates the national 10km championships.
Martin Fagan, Mark Kenneally, Deirdre Byrne, Pauline Curley and Annette Kealy will lead the home challenge, but Mary Cullen has withdrawn after returning from her training spell in Australia with an injury.
The foreign raiders will be led by European cross-country champion Hayley Yelling, Benita Willis and Switzerland's Viktor Rothlin, a 2007 World bronze medallist at marathon who was forced to take a break last year because of a pulmonary embolism.
There is an open forum with several of the elite entrants for AAI athletes and coaches at the Crown Plaza Hotel, Santry tomorrow at 2.30. Admission is free, but participants must register in advance with AAI.
Elsewhere, although a fall at the 15km mark forced Ireland's world silver medal walker Olive Loughnane out of her season opener last weekend, she is not worried about any long-term effects.