Marathon stars can seal London spots -- Hooper
LESS than two weeks away from the start of the National Lottery Dublin Marathon, Olympian Dick Hooper reckons the standard of Irish racing on Bank Holiday Monday will be the best for many years.
Clonliffe's Mark Kenneally secured his Olympic qualification with a super 2:13.55 run at Amsterdam last weekend.
But a berth on the plane to London still remains the huge carrot for those who have targeted Dublin to get the 'A' qualifying standards that Athletics Ireland are demanding for the 2012 Games -- which are 2 hours 15 minutes for men and 2:37 for women.
Three-time Dublin winner Hooper is centrally involved with the Marathon Mission, a joint initiative since 2010 between the marathon and Athletics Ireland (AAI), which is designed to raise standards nationally by providing training advice and some financial and medical support to prospective Olympians.
And he is confident that one Irish man and two women will meet the qualifying standards for London 2012 on the streets of Dublin on Monday week.
"You're looking for the right weather, of course, but I really believe that's a realistic goal," Hooper said.
He believes that the race for the Irish women's title (which is now incorporated into Dublin's mass participation event) will be particularly keen. "There's a really nice women's race developing," he said, pointing out that Linda Byrne, Maria McCambridge, Ava Hutchinson, Rosemary Ryan and Gladys Ganiel have all run under 75 minutes and 30 seconds for the half-marathon this year.
"You also have the likes of Siobhan O'Doherty, Lorraine Manning and Breege Connolly making steady progress."
McCambridge ran 2:35 in Paris in 2009 and certainly looks in good form, running 73:49 in last month's Great North Half Marathon, just six months after giving birth to her first child.
On the men's side, those hoping to make the Olympic breakthrough include Sean Connolly, Andrew Ledwith, Alan O'Shea, Brian Maher, Joe McAllister and Greg Roberts.
"Last year no Irish athlete broke 2:20 but this year we've already seen four do it," Hooper said.
These were Kenneally, Connolly's 2:17 in Rotterdam in April, Gary Thornton's 2.19:42 when 29th in Amsterdam last week and Thomas Frazer (ex-St Malachy's), who ran 2.19.42 in Chicago. Bantry's Alan O'Shea was next fastest with 2:21.37 in Rotterdam.
Like Kenneally, Irish triathlete Aileen Morrison had the weight of qualification lifted off her last weekend by finishing second in her last ITU race of the year in Korea.
Coming just four weeks after finishing fourth in the Japanese leg of the World Championship Series, it added enough points to the Derry woman's ranking to ensure that she will not be overtaken and will be on the starting line in Hyde Park.