Endurance coach backs 'potential' policy
NATIONAL endurance coach Chris Jones has defended Athletics Ireland's (AAI) new policy of only sending athletes to cross-country championships when the organisation feels it will significantly benefit their long-term development.
Eyebrows were raised at this week's controversial decision not to enter any Irish athletes for the U-23 women's race in the European Cross-Country Championships on December 8.
AAI traditionally sent the national U-23 champion (currently Portlaoise's Mary Mulhare) even if they didn't enter a full team. However, they are now operating a 'top-16 potential' policy for individual entries at the European Cross-Country.
Jones explained: "People have to understand that cross-country is only part of an endurance process. It creates opportunities to be looking at athletes for future track, road, Europeans and marathon.
"That's what we're using this for, and that's why it (sending athletes) must be a performance decision."
Jones said this is critical if the AAI is to address the problem of getting junior women to use the U-23 category to make a successful transition to senior level.
Fionnuala Britton, who won U-23 silver at the European Cross-Country in 2006, is one of the few endurance athletes to make the transition in recent years.
"In 2006, even though she was U-23, Fionnuala was the outright winner of the (national) inter-counties," stressed Jones. "Are we going to just continue doing the same thing, just selecting athletes for events with no performance output?
"I watched Irish athletes going around the back of world triathlon races year after year. What was the sport gaining from that?
"We have to re-think how we raise the bar and we've got to get our stepping stones right, which we're working on -- and athletes and coaches have to take responsibility for meeting those standards."
It looks likely that events like the British Cross-Challenge series will be used in future to aid this transition.
The U-23 decision caused some debate given the disproportionate drop-out rate of teenage girls from sport, but Jones said that is not part of his remit.
The decision to select two US-based athletes for the men's U-23 team, who finished between 70th and 100th at NCAAs last weekend, has also caused consternation.
Jones said the most marginal decision was plumping for US-based Kevin Dooney ahead of Bohermeen's Darragh Rennicks (third at the national U-23s). The fact that Rooney is a first-year U-23 and Rennicks is in his final year in that grade was one of the deciding factors.
Elsewhere, Clonliffe's Alistair Cragg (33) and Mark Kenneally (32) are both racing in Sunday's Fukuoka Marathon in Japan.