Last chance for McSweeney after 'unusual' false start

ATHLETICS: Irish athletes who were caught out by the unusually high number of false starts at the Woodies DIY Senior Indoor Championships will have a last-gasp opportunity to qualify for the upcoming European Indoors at Athlone IT again next Saturday.

Top sprinter Ailis McSweeney was among those furious at being disqualified at AIT last weekend. Injury forced McSweeney, Ireland's 100m record holder, to miss the Olympics last summer when she impressed off-track as an RTE pundit.

A recent niggle meant she was depending on some fast times to get the 60m qualifying time (7.36 secs) for the European Indoors in Gothenburg from March 1-3. But she was disqualified for false starting in the 60m final, even though she was adamant that she had not broken before the gun.

There were seven false starts in Sunday's 60m races and four in one men's heat alone, which included men's title favourite David Hynes.

"It's really hard to know what exactly was going wrong but I did think that the gun sounded unusual, very muffled, so perhaps that contributed to the problem," McSweeney said.

"When you false start, even by the tiniest fraction, you always know yourself but I genuinely didn't think I had, and Amy Foster was the same and very upset."

Defending indoor champion Foster at least had the consolation of achieving European qualifying when she ran a 7.33 PB in the heats.

With the team for Gothenburg not being confirmed until next Sunday, McSweeney will be among those with a last-gasp chance to do it in AIT again next weekend.

Elsewhere, the death has taken place, at his home in Garden City, New York, of Galway discus thrower Cummin Clancy (90).

Kiwi Clarke will join Connacht

RUGBY: Connacht have boosted their second-row options for next season with the signing of New Zealand-born lock Craig Clarke from Waikato Chiefs.

With Mike McCarthy moving to Leinster next season, Connacht have snapped up the 29-year-old on a three-year deal. The move is somewhat of a coup for Connacht, with Clarke having captained the Waikato Chiefs as they won the Super XV title last season.

"This is something we have been working towards for some time and the fact a player of Craig's calibre has chosen to commit to Connacht is a clear sign of the progress we have made and our intent going forward," said Connacht Rugby CEO Tom Sears.

Cilic ups game to down Dodig

TENNIS: Marin Cilic struggled early before finding his rhythm as the top seed ground out a 4-6 6-2 6-3 victory over Croatian compatriot Ivan Dodig in the first round of the Memphis International yesterday.

The top seed is bidding for a second successive title after winning in Zagreb last week and opened his campaign against a familiar foe in Dodig, the pair growing up in the same neighbourhood.

Dodig started well against the world No 12 but was unable to maintain his form and intensity once Cilic improved his serving after dropping the opening set.

Elsewhere American Rhyne Williams beat Steve Johnson 7-6 6-4 while Poland's Lukasz Kubot outlasted another American, Ryan Harrison, 6-4 6-7 7-6.

In the women's draw, top seeds, Kirsten Flipkens and Sofia Arvidsson, eased into the second round with straight-sets victories, while eighth-seeded Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic needed less than an hour to dispatch American Courtney Collins 6-3 6-1.

China seek WADA explanation

DRUGS: China will investigate claims that virtually all the raw materials used to produce illegal performance-enhancing drugs come from the country, even if they have serious reservations about their accuracy, state media said today.

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) director general David Howman said last week "ninety-nine per cent" of the materials used by criminal gangs around the world to make the drugs were emanating from China.

"We are shocked at Mr Howman's comment," Jiang Zhixue, the head of anti-doping at China's sports ministry, told the official Xinhua news agency.

"We are wondering where this 99pc came from and what is his evidence. We have asked for a more detailed explanation from WADA."