Griffin walking on air as his push for 'altitude house' reaps rewards
COLIN Griffin's Olympic qualification last weekend was not just a great advertisement for his own fortitude but for the University of Limerick's new altitude training centre, which he helped to set up.
It was the Ballinamore 50km race walker who first approached UL over two years ago suggesting the inclusion of an 'altitude house' on their world-class campus sports facilities and he played a part in developing what is now a commercial enterprise, officially opened for business.
Ireland's Olympic rowers had to travel to Poland in the past to avail of a similar facility, but those days are over after the Plassey Campus Centre converted one of their athletes' residences into a state-of-the-art training house.
The ability to 'live high and train low', which is what sealed altitude houses provide, is believed to be the most beneficial use of this training.
Griffin regularly trains at 2,350m in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain and fellow Irish walkers Olive Loughnane and Robert Heffernan train at Guadix, about an hour away, at 1,300m.
"The most effective altitude training programme involves living at an altitude of 2,000m to 3,000m for a period of 14 to 28 days," said Professor Phil Jakeman, director of UL's new altitude centre.
"Athletes who travel abroad to live at this altitude find it impossible to maintain their sea-level training programme and must undertake a daily trek to an altitude below 1,500m to train."
All athletes adapt differently to altitude and Jakeman said this is another one of the problems of moving abroad to train compared to using altitude houses which, with their hypoxic air-conditioning systems, can have individually customised accommodation.
"There are seven bedrooms in the house in UL and you can set them all at a different altitude, but the living room is always at 2,500m above sea level," Griffin explained.
He has used the house twice already this year, most recently for a two-week spell ahead of last weekend's World Cup in Russia, when he slept at 3,600m (nearly 12,000 feet).
Limerick's facility is a commercial enterprise which can be used by athletes from a broad range of sports, but it should also provide an invaluable research tool for UL's sports scientists.
Griffin described himself as being "relieved and delighted" to have finally qualified for his second Olympics.
He actually lost his Sports Council grant earlier this year but didn't let that affect his resolve and his London qualification is a deserved reward for his efforts.
Elsewhere, Ferrybank's Jessie Barr was best of the Irish in Namur in midweek, winning the 400m hurdles in 57.83, her fifth fastest time ever. This is a big weekend for London-bound high-jumper Deirdre Ryan, who kicks off her season in the IAAF Grand Prix in Shanghai tomorrow.
It's also a crunch period for David Gillick, who opens his season in Loughborough on Sunday with his Olympic 400m qualification (45.30) still to be secured.
*For info/bookings at the National Altitude Centre at the University of Limerick contact
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