Athletics: Sprint king Bolt given fast-track access to Ireland
OLYMPIC sprint sensation Usain Bolt has received special immigration immunity to come to Ireland at short notice for treatment with world-renowned Limerick sports therapist Gerard Hartmann - should the need ever arise.
Bolt is just one of an agreed list of 28 international athletics superstars -- which includes Ethiopian distance legends Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, and Jamaica's other Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser -- who have been given special status to visit Ireland in the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympics.
The Department of Justice has responded favourably to lobbying from Hartmann to clear a list of clients for the next four years in order to circumvent the lengthy visa process.
In the past 18 years, Hartmann has treated 53 Olympic medallists and is an integral part of Paula Radcliffe's backroom team. Any of his elite clients who have European passports have no problem getting into Ireland at short notice to visit his clinic at the University of Limerick. But because Ireland is not part of the Schengen Treaty, short-stay visas for non-EU athletes take 12-16 weeks to process.
Many of athletics' elite stars are from Africa and Jamaica and this has proved a huge hindrance to Hartmann's world-class operation, often forcing him to treat athletes in London or forcing his clients to seek treatment elsewhere.
Two of world athletics biggest agencies -- London-based PACE and Doyle Sports Management in Atlanta -- have already requested him to provide back-up treatment for global superstars like Bolt and Asafa Powell during the next Olympic cycle.
Hartmann stressed yesterday that his clients will rarely need to stay for more than seven to 14 days at a time.
"It is brilliant that the department has recognised what we are doing and the potential in it for Ireland, especially with 2012 coming up," said Hartmann.