| 13.7°C Dublin

AAI sure raising qualifying bars will bring flood of medals

ATHLETICS Ireland (AAI) believe they can win 24 major championship medals over the next four years, up to and including the Rio Olympics in 2016.

And they have targeted a dozen medal opportunities this season alone in a particularly busy summer that includes European U-23, Junior and Youth Olympic Championships, as well as senior World Championships and World Student Games.

High performance director Kevin Ankrom, criticised for hardening some qualifying standards during his first two years in charge, insisted yesterday that he will continue to raise the qualifying bar when he deems it necessary, and that these podium targets are realistic.

"I have absolute faith that our athletes and our coaches can step up and deliver these performances on the world scene," he said at the launch of AAI's high performance strategic plan for 2013-16.

"The depth of talent is here and, because Ireland is a small country, you can effect change here quite quickly, but we've all got to be in this together."

Communicate

Ankrom's ability to communicate with athletes has also come in for heavy criticism, and he admitted that he had been forced to make changes, stressing that this is "a completely new page" for both himself and the athletes.

He emphasised that good coaching will be the deciding factor in whether his plan succeeds, and Chris Jones' recent appointment as the association's first full-time distance coach is an important step.

Ankrom and AAI CEO John Foley will be holding five regional meetings over the next two months to explain the strategic plan.

It makes clear that performances will continue to be the main criteria by which athletes qualify for support. But there are some significant differences from previous HP plans, not least the fact that cross-country athletes will be considered for 'carding' grants.

The new strategy places huge importance on the proper transition of athletes in the 19-23 age group and includes the eventual provision of a full-time 'junior performance manager.'

Only 14 athletes received carding grants this year but 85-plus receive funding through AAI's separate HP budget, which was €800,000 this year.

There has been disquiet at the lack of transparency in how this budget is spent and Foley indicated that AAI would be willing to give a more detailed breakdown of this – including salaries – at future AGMs.

Another perennial criticism is that post-college athletes, aged 23-plus, are most vulnerable to falling through the cracks, especially when they get injured, and Ankrom said he remains open to supporting such athletes once they "demonstrate a need."

Irish Independent