Athletics: Marathon hopefuls set for timely boost
Irish Olympic marathon hopefuls could get a boost when the qualification standards for the 2012 Games are agreed between Athletics Ireland (AAI) and the Olympic Council of Ireland(OCI) next month.
The AAI controversially decided to make the marathon standards for this summer's World Championships in Korea even harder than the 2:17 and 2:43 set out by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
Athletics Ireland is demanding marks of 2:16 (men) and 2:38 (women) for Daegu because they felt that the IAAF standards were too easily attained, but the Irish Independent understands that AAI are contemplating softening their stance for London 2012.
The IAAF is expected to announce the Olympic standards in mid-April and it is not yet clear what the marathon mark will be, but they usually mirror those for the preceding World Championships.
The AAI will strongly consider agreeing to the status quo with the OCI because they feel London 2012 offers a unique opportunity for Ireland to get its strong men's marathon tradition back on track.
Two men involved at Irish marathon's coalface -- Jim Aughney and Dick Hooper -- already believe that a handful will achieve the standard and create a big battle for the three Olympic marathon places.
"Regardless of what standard is agreed, there will be four or five Irishmen who will get the time and there will be a selection battle," predicted three-time Olympian Hooper.
Hooper coaches Sean Connolly, who is first into the fray in Rotterdam on April 10, and a week later Alistair Cragg and Mark Kenneally are making their eagerly awaited marathon debuts in Boston and Vienna respectively.
Joe Sweeney is another expected to make his debut in the next 12 months, while Andrew Ledwith could yet run his maiden marathon in Dublin in October. Aughney and Hooper are already involved with the AAI-Dublin Marathon initiative called 'Marathon Mission,' which is bringing a development group of marathoners up to international standard.
Joe McAllister, Greg Roberts, Barry Minnock and Alan O'Shea all finished in the 2:21 to 2:23 mark in Dublin last year and, with Brian Maher, are part of a second-tier group for whom "2:17 is very gettable," according to Hooper.
Dublin's marathon was boosted earlier this week by new sponsorship from the National Lottery and a commitment of live television coverage.
Another huge boost to its profile would be the sight of several Irish athletes using it to battle it out for an Olympic spot.
"The course in Dublin has proven to be fast enough and, with 2012 around the corner, let's hope we get some of them," said race director Aughney.
"I really believe the Irish selectors will have a big marathon selection headache for 2012."