Thursday 14 December 2017

Athletics: Morton Stadium set to host two-day Euro Team Championships

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

LIKE many sports, those involved in Irish athletics at grassroots level often argue that their input does not get enough recognition or reward from the sport's power brokers.

But they certainly can't complain of that when Athletics Ireland (AAI) hosts a world-class two-day international in June.

Morton Stadium will host the 'first league' of the European Team Championships on June 22-23 and AAI will waive the entrance fee (€10) for any affiliated club that brings 20 spectators or more. This special club deal is expected to help AAI attract a capacity crowd for both days.

Setanta has already committed to live television coverage and, by linking the event with The Gathering, AAI are also hoping to attract big numbers from abroad.

This competition – previously called the Europa Cup – has been radically overhauled in recent years to a particularly spectator-friendly format.

All men's and women's scores are combined together to decide the final nation placings so every run, jump and throw matters. The competition was not held last summer due to the crowded international timetable, but Ireland maintained its place in the high-quality 'first league' in 2011.

That means it will involve 600 world-class athletes from 12 countries, including several track and field strongholds like the Czech Republic, Sweden, Hungary and Portugal. The event really is a two-day track-fest that athletics fans will relish.

The sight of Ethiopian star Kenenisa Bekele running in the Phoenix Park in Sunday's Spar Great Ireland Run is another treat not to be missed.

He may have only finished fourth at the London Olympics 10,000m, but the former double Olympic champion is still the world record holder at 5,000m and 10,000m and set a Great Ireland course record of 27 minutes and 49 seconds for 10,000m last year.

His fellow countryman Ibrahim Jeilan, the current 10,000m world champion who missed London 2012 through injury, should provide stiff competition.

The elite men's field also includes top Australian Collis Birmingham (recently eighth at the World Cross Countries) and Clonliffe Olympian Mark Kenneally, who is the defending Irish 10km champion which is run in conjunction with this race.

Fionnuala Britton may have pulled out but DSD Olympian Linda Byrne is back to defend her Irish 10km title in the elite women, who include defending champion Gemma Steele (GB), Ava Hutchinson and Lizzie Lee.

A high-class men's mile has also been added to the programme (12.20) and, as always, the main event is preceded by mini (five to eight-year-olds) and junior (nine to 15) runs.

The women's race starts at 1.10, followed by the men (1.30) and don't miss Monday's Irish Independent, which will carry all the stories and full results for the huge 10,000 field.

• A commemorative plaque to mark the achievements of local athletics heroes Sean and Michael O'Sullivan is being erected tonight (7.30) at a special event in Tournafulla in Limerick. All are welcome to attend.

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