independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Athlone's world-class arena ready to open doors

IRELAND'S long-awaited first international-class indoor arena is on track to open at Athlone Institute of Technology in a fortnight's time.

The ambitious project – a six-lane 200m track with seating for 1,000-plus – is the brainchild of Athlone IT's president Ciaran O Cathain, who has since also become president of Athletics Ireland (AAI).

It may be crossing the line later than initially envisaged back in 2010, but all the stops have been pulled out to get it completed in time to host indoor competitions this season, including the 'Nationals' on February 16/17.

The inaugural event in it will be the Woodies DIY National 'Combined' Championships on January 26, followed by the traditional season-opening AAI Indoor Games the next day.

AAI are working on recruiting some high-class foreign athletes for the January 27 meeting, targeting the women's 800m and men's 400m, 1,500m and 3,000m events.

The indoor arena is the first phase of a €13m sports facility in Athlone IT, which has a student population of 6,000 and received a government grant of €737,500 last year to help complete the track.

The college has high hopes of hosting IAAF indoor events, and its central location certainly makes it a fantastic new asset for Irish athletics, which has been dependent so long on the indoor facility in Nenagh.

Elsewhere, AAI has approached all of Ireland's history-making winning women's team from the European Cross-Country championships to see if they are interested in racing again as a unit at the world equivalent in Poland in March.

AAI has only sent individuals to the Worlds in recent years, but after romping to victory in the Great Edinburgh race last week, Fionnuala Britton stressed that having a team around her in Bydgoszcz would be of huge benefit.

This looks a long shot because several of those who won team gold with her in Budapest have already returned their focus to marathon-running, but AAI has not yet ruled it out.

Britton's form in Scotland was just as impressive as when she retained her European title in Budapest in December and she will be the athlete to beat again at the IAAF-sanctioned Antrim International in Greenmount tomorrow.

The field will also include Britain's European U-23 champion Jess Coulson (fourth last week), Linda Byrne (sixth in Edinburgh), Freya Ross (nee Murray), who was Britain's best marathoner at the London Olympics, and Kenyans Eunice Kales and Magdalene Masai.

Kenya's Bernard Rotich (third in Antrim last year), Joseph Birech (a Commonwealth bronze medallist at 10,000m), David Bett (2010 world junior 5,000m champion) and marathon specialist Julius Maisei will lead the men's field.

The juvenile races start at 11.0, with the junior races (U-17/U-20) at 1.0, the senior women at 2.25 and senior men 2.50.

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