Athletics: Stellar international field to test Ireland's best
Athletics Ireland have pulled out all the stops to ensure that their top athletes have a world-class field to race against at the AAI Indoor games, to be held at the new state-of-the-art indoor track in Athlone at the end of the month.
The association has targeted several international athletes to race in the events they feel have the strongest home-grown athletes.
A very strong field is expected for the 400m. Germany's Thomas Schneider and Italy's Matteo Galvan will compete. Both men are 45-second runners and have plenty of international experience. Brian Gregan is one of Ireland's main contenders for the European Indoors in March and he is delighted to have such quality competitors on his home patch.
"When you put yourself up against people of a high standard, that brings you on," says Gregan.
"Then when it comes to a major championship you are not afraid to race against anyone. When you get onto a proper race you know all about it and you learn more from those situations rather than winning the race by a mile."
The 3,000m will also be very competitive with Spanish athletes Juan Higuero and Mohamed Marham taking part. Higuero came fourth in the 1500m at the 2008 Olympic Games, is a former European Champion and has won 10 National titles.
There are several Irish athletes competing at this distance looking to secure qualifying times for the Europeans including John Travers, Stephen Scullion and Mark Hanrahan.
Moses Kipkemboi will race in the men's 800m. The Kenyan is based in Br Colm O'Connell's camp and has a personal best of 1.47.4 which was run at altitude in Kenya.
This will be his first indoor race – in fact the trip to Ireland will be the first time he's ever left Kenya. He will be joined by Danish athlete Nick Jensen who has a personal best of 1.49.79. They will provide a good test for Mark English, who is also hoping to qualify for the Europeans.
For the 1500m, four international runners have been recruited with the aim of helping Mullingar's Shane Fitzsimons get the standard for the European juniors.
The women's 800m will also have an international field with Germany's Jana Hartmann and the Netherlands' San Verstegen taking part. The Irish contingent is also strong with Siobhan Eviston, Laura Crowe, Siofra Cleirigh Butler and Ciara Everhart all lining out.
In the pole vault Italy's Roberta Bruni will set the standard, she was third in the world junior championships in Barcelona last year and has a personal best of 4.35 and in the long jump Kelly Proper will be up against Elaine Martins of Brazil.
And in the women's 400m Lisanne De Witte should provide stiff competition for Ireland's Marian Heffernan.
The new facility hosting the event is Ireland's first international-class indoor arena. It cost over €10m to construct and features a 200m six-lane banked oval track, an internal 60m sprint track and seating for close to 2,000 spectators.
Athlone IT's president Ciaran O Cathain, who is also president of Athletics Ireland, has been the driving force behind the project.
The facility is on the grounds of the college and will be available to hire. It's expected that it will be used by both sporting and non-sporting organisations.
Athletics Ireland CEO John Foley believes that it will be a valuable resource for Irish athletes and that there might be more in the country in years to come. "Having that kind of track is hugely important," said Foley. "It would be great to have more than one, a lot of athletes go abroad during the indoors to compete but this gives them an opportunity to compete in Ireland on an excellent track."
The track is expected to be fast so Foley hopes that records will be set in the next few years. If this happen he believes that it may lead to an opportunity for an international event.
For Gregan it's a dream come true to have such a facility so close to his training ground in Dublin.
"I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be racing on Irish soil on a proper six-lane 400m indoor track, a proper facility," said Gregan. "I'm really looking forward to it, I hope it's fast. If it is then it will attract athletes over to run on it and that will bring us on too. If this is a success then I wouldn't be surprised if others are built. We need them because the weather is so dodgy, we have Santry but it's only 60 meters long so you can't do much on that."
Sunday Indo Sport