Monday 18 December 2017

Ireland's main medal hope Rob Heffernan in race to avoid gastroenteritis


Leading medal hope Rob Heffernan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Leading medal hope Rob Heffernan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Irish athletics chiefs were frantically arranging alternative accommodation in London last night for team members - including leading medal hope Rob Heffernan - after an outbreak of gastroenteritis that has affected dozens of competitors at the World Championships.

England's public health body admitted it had been notified of 30 cases in people associated with the championships, with high-profile stars among them.

Botswana's Isaac Makwala had been a medal favourite in both the men's 200m and 400m, but was blocked from competing in the men's 200m heats on Monday night after vomiting in the medical room at the stadium. He was placed under quarantine at the team hotel in addition to team-mate Onkabetse Nkobolo, who had also fallen ill in recent days, and was unable to run in last night's 400m final as a result.

Thomas Barr was one of the first cases to be confirmed, the Waterford man being forced to withdraw from Monday's 400m hurdles semi-finals after becoming ill on Sunday night. "I'm gutted to have to withdraw," said Barr, who has since recovered. "My whole year has been focused on the World Championships."

A floor at the Guoman Tower Hotel - which housed the Irish and Botswanan teams - had been quarantined, while an IAAF letter circulated to team management insisted any athletes who contracted the illness were to remain quarantined for 48 hours.

Athletics Ireland moved quickly to protect other athletes, with Thomas Barr, who had shared a room with 400m semi-finalist Brian Gregan, quarantined from other team members after falling ill. He remains the only Irish athlete to have contracted the bug.

Alternative accommodation was arranged for the four Irish athletes yet to compete, with Síofra Cléirigh-Buttner checking in at a different hotel after arriving in London ahead of tomorrow evening’s 800m heats.

Team manager Patsy McGonagle confirmed last night that separate accommodation has also been found for race-walking trio Rob Heffernan, Alex Wright and Brendan Boyce, who are due to arrive tomorrow ahead of Sunday’s race walks.

The Tower Hotel issued a statement yesterday denying any responsibility for the outbreak.

“We can confirm that a small number of guests have been suffering from an illness,” it read.

“We have worked collaboratively with the EHO (Environmental Health Officer) and IAAF to investigate the origins of the illness and can confirm that the hotel was not the source.”

Makwala, meanwhile, insisted he was “ready to race” the 400m final in an interview with the BBC yesterday but was later excluded by the world athletics’ governing body from the final.

The IAAF was facing questions over the exclusion of Botswana medal hope on medical grounds.

Video footage showed Makwala was prevented from entering the warm-up track and Botswanan officials criticised the IAAF for their heavy-handedness.

Botswana national sports commission chief executive Falcon Sedimo said: “Isaac has been denied entry to the stadium and has been taken back to the hotel where the team stays.

“We don’t have any official communication from the IAAF pointing to the reasons that have led to Makwala being debarred from competing in the 400 metres final for men. I met Makwala this morning before 11am and I also met him again this afternoon at around 15:00 hours and the indications were that he was ready and raring to go.”

Sedimo criticised the IAAF’s communication and said the Botswana officials found out through the media that Makwala was unable to compete.

He added that Makwala had not undergone any medical tests yesterday and “it could be possible one of the symptoms –  but only one –  that he showed could have possibly led to the norovirus”.

The IAAF said in a statement: “The IAAF is very sorry that the hard work and talent of Isaac Makwala won’t be on display tonight but we have to think of the welfare of all athletes.

“The athlete was diagnosed with an infectious disease on Monday.

“As per UK health regulations, it was requested that he be quarantined in his room for 48 hours, a period which ends at 14:00hrs tomorrow (August 9).”

The 30-year-old had been expected to challenge favourite and Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk over one lap. The South African was a comfortable winner of last night’s 400m final.

Elaine Thompson, the overwhelming favourite for gold in the women’s 100m, had reportedly vomited prior to finishing a disappointing fifth in the final in 10.98, while Javier Culson of Puerto Rico also fell ill prior to crashing out in the heats of the 400m hurdles. There were reports of several cases of gastroenteritis hitting the German and Canadian teams, with 30 German athletes moved to different accommodation around London yesterday.

In other news, Heffernan’s medal chances were given a boost with the withdrawal of Australia’s Jared Tallent from Sunday’s 50km race walk. The 2012 Olympic champion and six-time global medallist suffered a hamstring tear in training.

Irish Independent

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