Athletics: Morrison battles to brilliant third
RISING Irish triathlon star Aileen Morrison marked herself down as a serious prospect for the 2012 Olympics by finishing third in the fourth round of the ITU World Championship Series in Hamburg.
The 28-year-old Derry athlete, fifth in the recent European Championships in Athlone, maintained her hot streak by coming home just two seconds behind Sweden's Lisa Norden and Australia's reigning world champion and Olympic silver medallist Emma Moffat. She was part of an eight-way breakaway group in the final running leg that culminated in a thrilling sprint finish, and her run time was the second fastest of the day.
Ireland's first podium finish at this level saw Morrison jump up to 17th in the world rankings; her coach Chris Jones described her performance in Hamburg as "astonishing".
Morrison was initially a swimmer who competed at provincial level when underage.
She has a degree in physical education from John Moores University in Liverpool, but her dual talents were only realised when she won the Northern Ireland and Ulster cross-country title two years ago and then seriously took up triathlon.
"I feel like I'm in a dream right now," she said. "To be in a sprint with Emma and Lisa was unbelievable. I couldn't be happier."
Morrison's next outing will be a World Cup race in Hungary on August 8, followed, a week later, by another World Championship Series race in Kitzbuhel and her season will culminate with the World Championships in Budapest in September.
Elsewhere Ireland's team for the European Track and Field Championships, which start in Barcelona in a week's time, was expanded to 33 athletes yesterday with three late additions before the final deadline -- and Leitrim's 50km race walker Colin Griffin was among them.
Griffin was omitted from the initial shortlist despite having the necessary qualification standard because he was getting treatment on an injury and missed the recent National Championships.
Athletics Ireland have now invited him to join the team's training camp in Murcia, but he will still have to prove he's up to full fitness if he is to race in Barcelona.
The two completely new inclusions are Dublin sprinter Steven Colvert and Ennis distance runner Rory Chesser, who both managed to get in before Sunday's final qualification deadline.
Colvert is a rapidly improving young UCD sprinter who won two bronzes at the Nationals last year and improved that to two silvers this year.
He clinched his qualification by sensationally lowering his 200m personal best from 21.31 to 20.90 in Belgium last weekend, which was well inside the 21 seconds-flat qualifying mark.
Chesser is the reigning Irish steeplechase champion and he met the 1500m qualifying standard of 3:41.00 by running a new 3:40.08 PB in Sweden last weekend.
There is encouraging news also on the fitness of City of Derry sprinter Jason Smyth, who has spent most of this season training with Tyson Gay's training group in Florida, where his coach Stephen Maguire has been acting as assistant to Gay's coach Lance Brauman.
Smyth, who is partially sighted, was a double gold medallist at the 2008 Paralympics. He aims to make history in Barcelona by becoming the first Paralympian to compete in the European Championships and has similar aspirations for the 2012 Olympics in London.
His European participation looked in some doubt when he picked up an injury recently that stopped him defending his 100m title at the Irish Championships.
Smyth was still selected pending proof of full fitness and AAI sources said yesterday that he has done some very positive training sessions at the team training camp and is now set to test his fitness in a race in Spain in the coming days.