Relay teams chase Rio berths
Published 01/05/2015 | 02:30
Two Irish teams compete in the Bahamas over the next 48 hours - and there is a massive carrot for every nation involved.
The IAAF World Relay Championships are only a year old, yet the top eight finishers in this year's event will not only get automatic qualification for this summer's World Championships but also, remarkably, for next year's Olympic Games.
Athletics Ireland sent a men's 4x400m and women's 4x100m squad to train and compete in Florida last week in preparation for it.
The men's squad is Ferrybank hurdler Thomas Barr (right), who secured World Championship qualification with his 49.08 season opener, Shercock's Craig Lynch (47.35 last week), Crusaders' Brian Murphy, Richard Morrissey and Clonliffe's Brian Gregan and Dara Kervick.
Amy Foster (Lisburn), Sarah Lavin (UCD), Phil Healy (Bandon), Catherine McManus and Steph Creaner (DCH) make up the women's team.
Many of them were on the teams who set new Irish records of 3.01.67 and 43.84 at the European Championships last summer but the men's team then included Mark English and, given what's at stake, the standard in the Bahamas is set to be particularly hot.
It still offers relay runners a great chance to make the Olympics and underlines the qualification anomalies that puzzle people like Ireland's 21-time javelin champion and national record-holder (82.75m from 2000) Terry McHugh.
McHugh is now Switzerland's national throws coach and an organiser of their top Lucerne meeting, but he remains frustrated by the inequity of Olympic qualifying standards, particularly for field eventers.
The six-time Olympian - including two Winter Games in bobsleigh - reckons he would not have pursued javelin if today's Olympic qualifying standards (82m in 2012, 83m for 2016) had existed when he began.
"You don't need 83m to bring together a field of 32 athletes to compete at the Olympics," McHugh argues, pointing out that 81.14m made javelin's top 40 throws last year.
He has also pointed out how a sprinter ranked a thousand places lower in their event has way more chance of qualifying as part of a relay team than a thrower or jumper.
"Funding and sponsors will go to this athlete because they are an Olympian, but not to a top-40 field eventer as they have not met the standard," he said.
McHugh advocates "sensible" Olympic standards for field events, like the world top 40 to 50 marks.
His recommendations, with statistical analysis, are outlined on the throwing website hmmrmedia.com.
Rio's marathon standards (2.17 and 2.42) are particularly soft compared to those in track and field, underlined by the fact that 1,270 marathon runners (703 men and 567 women) ran those times last year.
If qualification for Rio 2016 was based on 2014 performances only three Irish track athletes would be going to Brazil, compared to five female marathoners and three walkers.
The IAAF sets the standards, and it can also be argued that setting the bar so high in throws increases the potential for doping.
But McHugh's real worry is that such unrealistic targets will drive aspiring young throwers away and into the welcoming arms of team sports.
"This is not just about me or the few athletes that will now miss the Olympics," he argues. "It is about those who will be turned away from our sport."
The odds of relay squads qualifying are certainly way shorter, which is why AAI is investing time and money in them.
Even if the Irish teams don't make the top eight this weekend they can qualify for the World Championships and Olympics by making the top 16 rankings before further deadlines.
Elsewhere the Irish Independent has confirmed that controversial marathon runner Martin Fagan, who completed a two-year drugs ban in late 2013 and got the Rio standard two weeks ago, will attend the official launch of the 2015 Dublin Marathon next week.
The race organisers said yesterday that a number of athletes have been invited to attend but said that many have still to confirm their plans and their presence does not necessarily mean they will race Dublin.