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Athletics Ireland slammed after Cuddihy axed

Catriona Cuddihy is to be dramatically replaced by Joanna Mills on the Irish women's 4x400m Olympic relay team.

Mills was yesterday successful in an appeal to Athletics Ireland (AAI) against the association's original decision to select Cuddihy ahead of her.

The 19-year-old heard the good news just hours before she was due to fly to Barcelona for this week's World Junior Championships.

In contrast, it was a heartbreaking outcome for Cuddihy, who just days ago was modelling the new gear for the Olympic athletes at the Ireland team announcement at the National Concert Hall. The Kilkenny athlete has until this evening to appeal.

A tearful Cuddihy expressed her shock and disappointment moments after she was informed of the decision at the National Championships in Santry yesterday.

"I can't really believe it," she said. "Since I've come home from Australia my times have been very good, they've been about a second quicker than Joanna Mills, and that's true so I'm very surprised, and heartbroken."

When asked if she would lodge an appeal, Cuddihy revealed that she was still undecided but she is expected to go ahead with the appeal and also run in the National Championships this afternoon.

Mills is currently ranked sixth in the Irish 400m list with a time of 54.41 seconds, while 25-year-old Cuddihy is ranked seventh (54.59).

Mills's coach Ian Neely said they felt vindicated by the decision.

"I went through the process of appeal with Joanna so I'm delighted but I obviously feel sympathy for Catriona because she was deselected. It was never a personal issue with anybody. Our problem was that they [Athletics Ireland] hadn't followed the correct procedures for their selection process. The best case scenario would have been if Joanna had been added to the team. That would have kept everyone happier.

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"The AAI have shown themselves to be amateurish -- they made the mistake and now they've wrecked it for two girls instead of just one. Catriona is feeling the same way that Joanna felt just four days ago and that's not nice. Joanna is obviously pleased that she is going and that she is selected, but she feels for Catriona too.

"The whole thing could have been handled a lot better; it should never have come to this. I feel that the decision had been made beforehand. It was mistake after mistake and two people are mentally scarred because of the whole thing."

Olympic Chef de Mission Sonia O'Sullivan, meanwhile, said it would have been fairer to make the girls race for their place on the team.

"If it was up to me there would be a race and the team would be decided on the best people in the race. It makes no sense to me why the decision was made this morning with an appeal. Why did they not just do it with the 400m final?

"It makes no sense to me why we have our National Championships on the weekend of the closing date for entry to the Olympics and decisions are made by people sitting around the table when there is an opportunity for the athletes to get out on the track. I think the decision should be based on the running and not what people think."

It was also a hugely disappointing day for sprinter Steven Colvert. His time of 20.40 in the 200m semi-final was well inside the Olympic 'A' standard (20.55) but his celebrations were short-lived after it became clear the wind was plus-three, which invalidates times. In the final some hours later, Colvert ran 20.78. Yesterday was Colvert's last chance to get the time for London.

"I've been after that time all season long and just kept missing it by fractions here and there, but I was totally focussed on this and the run I had in the Europeans sharpened me up," said Colvert, who recently ran a personal best of 20.57.

"I knew this was my last chance and I gave it everything and never once thought if the wind was behind me or against me. I think I was so motivated that if the wind was against me I would have been inside the standard."

Meanwhile, there is unlikely to be a dramatic U-turn on the policy of only sending 'A' standard athletes. Although Colvert can't go on a 'B' standard because Paul Hession has the 'A' time, there is leeway for Jessie Barr, Brian Gregan and Jason Smyth to go as there are no athletes in their events who have met the 'A' standard.

Four years ago the OCI decided at the last minute to send a number of athletes with the 'B' time to Beijing; however O'Sullivan doesn't see it happening this time round.

"I don't believe that 'B' standards will be brought, it's been fairly consistent that only 'A' times will be brought. So many people rose to the challenge and got it that I think it would downgrade the whole thing if you bring 'Bs'. When you set a standard and everyone agrees to it then to be credible we have to stick to it," she said.

Kevin Ankrom, AI's performance director, agreed. "I think that would be opening a big paradox of people with 'B' standards, and what's the criteria around it? If you take one, then you have to take them all. It's the Olympic Council's team but as far as our nominations go we're subject to nominate 'A' standard people, and that's what we've done," he said.

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