Sunday 4 December 2016

London hopeful banging the drum for B standard benefits

Young athletes need Olympic experience to prosper at Rio 2016, Thomas Chamney tells Marie Crowe

Published 07/08/2011 | 05:00

Thomas Chamney spent the summer of 2008 flogging himself all over Europe trying to run the A standard 800m qualification time for the Beijing Olympic Games. He had qualified as a B standard athlete but at that time, like now, the Olympic Council of Ireland and Athletics Ireland said they only intended to send A standard athletes to the Games.

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However, on the eve of the national championships, Chamney received a phone call from Irish team manager Patsy McGonagle, who told him that there was a chance that the OCI may consider sending B standard athletes to Beijing, even though the Games were barely two weeks away.

Chamney took the call in a laundrette in Belgium. He was scheduled to run a grand prix race the following day, and was still trying to get the A standard qualification time for Beijing. He was faced with a dilemma. He could stay in Belgium and try again for the A standard or go home and run the 800m national final, try to beat Dave Campbell, who also had a B standard time, and hope that the OCI would change its mind.

Chamney decided to take the risk. He threw his wet clothes into his bag, hailed a taxi to Brussels Airport and boarded the first flight he could get to Dublin. The next day he ran the 800m in Santry and won. Later that night he got a call from McGonagle confirming that the OCI had reconsidered and Chamney was going to the Olympics.

The next two weeks were mayhem for Chamney. Although honoured, the lack of preparation time weighed heavily on him.

"It was a bit of a joke," he recalls. "They hadn't got a visa lined up for me to go to Beijing -- the embassy had to be opened up especially for my sister to pick it up. It was all very last-minute and very stressful but if you are going to the Olympics you will put up with it because it was a dream come true."

Chamney also had to deal with the fallout in the media over the lack of transparency in the qualification process.

"It was very hard at the time because I knew my parents were picking up the paper and reading high-profile people questioning whether or not their son should be sent to the Olympics. Making the Olympics was the biggest honour that I'd achieved in my life and these people were questioning me going and saying that I had an advantage over David Campbell in the nationals and because of this I felt a bit like a second-class citizen on the trip. It was hard for my parents, but they told me I was better off not getting involved in it because I was the one going to the Olympics and getting the chance to compete."

Although the way he qualified took the thrill out of the Games, Chamney would never take it back. The whole experience benefited him and in 2009 he ran personal bests and jumped 60 places in the world rankings to 26th.

"Personally, I benefited from going to the Olympics on a B standard time. I learned so much from the experience and it motivated me to push on in my training and my performance in competition.

"I think it's a really good thing for athletes who are at the same stage in their development as I was to go and experience an Olympic Games. If you are young, have run a B standard and are serious about making an impact in Rio [in 2016], you should really be sent, especially since the Olympics are in London."

It's less than a year out from the Olympics and Chamney is busy trying to get his body right. Last April, he had a double hernia operation in Germany, under the same surgeon who operated on Michael Owen, Dimitar Berbatov and Shay Given, which strengthened his abdominal walls. The recovery process has been tough and since Chamney sustained the injury last autumn, he has gone through the ringer both emotionally and physically.

"I was based in Limerick until the operation and I felt very isolated down there. I feel like I've been let down a bit by Athletics Ireland:

after the European Championships in Barcelona, I didn't get a phone call from anyone to see how I was doing, to see if I was back on track or how I was progressing.

"But there was no high performance director in place in AI so there was no one who could call me. I had to organise the operation myself, research the surgeon, make all the calls, book the flights; if I was involved in a team sport I wouldn't have had to do that. Athletics Ireland do their best and they are trying but they didn't make my life any easier. But I'm hopeful now with Kevin Ankrom in the job that this is something that will be eradicated."

After his surgery, Chamney moved to Dublin and started training with Chris Jones, the high performance director of Triathlon Ireland. Jones, along with a team of medics and physios, advised him to take the rest of the season off to recover. For Chamney this means that he can't defend the 800m national title he has held since 2008.

"I'm missing the National Championships and that's hard to take. I suppose I'm in a similar situation to David Gillick -- he has gone away to try and get his body right -- I'm hoping to start getting back on the horse in the next week or two to build towards 2012. It's not ideal because I'd hoped to run the qualifying standard for London this summer and then just peak for the Games next year. But now I'm in a position where I have to go and try and qualify next summer and keep the peak going until the Games.

"It would be so much easier if we were told that if we run the B standard and win the national championships that we could go to London because it's very hard to try to prepare properly for an Olympics while killing yourself to get the almost impossible A standard."

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