Tuesday 11 December 2018

Athlone test to set Barr and English on road to Berlin

Thomas Barr. Photo: Sportsfile
Thomas Barr. Photo: Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

The big test, they know, is still almost six months away, but for Mark English and Thomas Barr tonight's AIT International Grand Prix in Athlone will prove a useful fact-finding mission on the journey there.

Both have long circled August's European Championships in Berlin as the apex of their year, an event where medals should be on the agenda, but as they close their indoor seasons tonight they'll be looking for something to sustain them through the months of hard graft ahead.

It will be Barr's third race of the year, having set an Irish best in the seldom-run indoor 400m hurdles earlier this month, then followed up with a fourth-place finish over 200m at the National Championships last weekend.

Tonight, he'll test his wheels over 400m, where he'll be looking to dip below 47 seconds against a field that includes Brazil's Anderson Henriques, who has run 44.95 outdoors.

Also in the line-up is British-based Luke Lennon-Ford, who, despite having declared for Ireland, bypassed the national indoors last weekend to run at the British championships, where he clocked 47.78.

Rivals

Mark English, like Barr, will not be competing at next week's World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, though after destroying his rivals in facile manner to take the national title last weekend, the 24-year-old must be wondering whether he could challenge for a medal there.

English changed gears in impressive style during the slow-run 800m final last Sunday, but tonight he'll face a very different challenge.

The line-up includes Spain's Kevin Lopez, a 1:43 performer at his best, along with Britain's Andrew Osagie, an Olympic finalist in 2012.

Having come through winter training without a hitch, English says he's in a good place as he looks towards the summer.

"There is no secret to the sport, it's consistency and not getting injured. I had to work on speed a lot over the winter because I didn't have it last summer, but it's back. I'm looking forward to it."

The event suffered some high-profile withdrawals in recent days such as Sally Pearson and Mutaz Essa Barshim, but there will be no shortage of world-class performers.

The men's pole vault gathers the past two world champions in Shawn Barber and Sam Kendricks, while in the men's high jump 2004 Olympic medallist Jaroslav Baba, who has a best of 2.37m, will challenge Laois jumper Barry Pender, who cleared a superb 2.24m to win the national title last weekend.

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