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Wednesday 30 July 2014

O Lionaird ready for an extra special mile in Euro bid

Cliona Foley

Published 11/07/2014|02:30

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Ireland's Ciarán O Lionáird. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Ciarán O Lionáird. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

CIARAN O Lionaird's audacious bid to get European 1,500m qualification within its legendary mile event should provide one of the highlights at the Morton Games in Santry tonight.

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The Oregon-based Leevale star, who had major Achilles surgery with famous Swedish surgeon Dr Hakan Alfredson last October, had his first race in a year in late April.

But he suffered an injury setback a month later, which is why he is still chasing Athletics Ireland's (AAI) 1,500m 'A' standard (3:39.30) for next month's European Championships.

Race organisers Clonliffe have gone out of their way to help by providing specific pacers and also, unusually, setting up a second timer and photo-finish at the 1,500m mark, 100 metres before the race's true finish line.

"It's a unique situation, to be running a 1,500m within a mile, I'm not sure how it will play out but it should certainly make for an entertaining race," O Lionaird (26) said.

He has a back-up plan (Huesden in a week's time) to try to make Zurich before AAI's qualification deadline of July 21 but really wants to do it tonight.

A world finalist in 2011, and bronze medallist at 3,000m in the European Indoors last year, O Lionaird's 3:34.46 in Oordegem three years ago ranks him fourth fastest ever of Ireland's vaunted metric milers. But just after running a 3:57.99 mile in the Prefontaine Classic on May 30 he suffered hip pain.

He needed an MRI to confirm there was no stress fracture, but he was forced to miss 10 days of training and had to take his recovery very slowly.

A time-trial at mile pace last Friday has convinced him he is now ready to rumble but he admitted: "I don't know fully where I'm at because I missed so much time.

"It's high stakes alright but I'm looking forward to it and hopefully people will come out and be supportive."

O Lionaird's 'race within a race' will only add to the mystique of the legendary Morton Mile.

Tonight's 16-man field includes 13 sub-four men, including America's defending champion Cory Leslie (whose 3:55.86 last year was the fastest Morton Mile in 30 years) and New Zealand's Zane Robertson, who is looking for a 3:52 personal best tonight.

It should end a thrilling night's racing where Tom Barr gets to pit himself against the reigning world 400m hurdles champion Jehue Gordon (Trinidad & Tobago).

Mark English will have another crack at the Irish record in a high-class 800m which will include top miler Paul Robinson, Karl Griffin, Australia's Ryan Gregson and Kenya's 2010 Commonwealth bronze medallist Abraham Kiplagat, while the women's 800m will be a big domestic dust-up involving Laura Crowe, Katie Kirk, Ciara Everard and Aislinn Crossey.

Portugal's European 100m record-holder Francis Obikwelu heads up a strong 100m field and David Gillick's old indoor nemesis Johan Wissman (Sweden) is among the strong international 400m field facing Brian Gregan.

Mexico's Juan Luis Barrios, second in Cork mid-week, looks to be the man that Kevin Batt, Mark Hanrahan and Mark Christie will be chasing in the 3,000m. America's 5,000m record holder Molly Huddle is among a strong women's mile field.

Action starts at 6.0pm, with the international programme starting at 7.0, culminating in the Morton Mile at 9.0.

Full details are available at www.mortongames.ie.

Irish Independent

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