Tuesday 10 December 2019

Olympics: Marathon hopefuls want quick decision

Cliona Foley

PLEASE, Athletics Ireland, bring forward your selection date and put us out of our misery!

That was the heartfelt plea yesterday from the four Irish women who are waiting to discover if they will be selected for the Olympic marathon in London.

Four have achieved the qualification standard (2:37) but there are only three places available to each country, which means one will be heartbroken.

It has thrown up a massive dilemma for the Athletics Ireland (AAI) selectors, who set out a wide list of criteria last February. Some regard those criteria as much more tailored for track athletes and one of the marathon contenders described them as "vague" yesterday. But most contentious for those involved is the selection date of June 12.

Three of the four contenders, who are all close friends and often train together, helped launch the 2012 Dublin Marathon yesterday.

And all, separately, had the same message for the selectors: please bring the date forward so we can finalise our training plans or, if we haven't made it, change tack to try to qualify for another Olympic event or the Europeans in June.

Donegal-based Dubliner Maria McCambridge, a 2004 Olympian who found herself in a similar situation 12 years ago when she narrowly missed out on the 5,000m standard for Sydney, best summed up their feelings.

"I'm head-wrecked," McCambridge said. "I really think it's unfair to keep us waiting, I just wish they'd let us know as soon as possible."

National marathon champion Linda Byrne, who was the first to get the time last October, echoed that sentiment.

"The British and everyone else have their (marathon) team picked by now so it would have been fairer if we had the selection in the next couple of weeks," Byrne said.

The most recent qualifier, Dublin-based Donegal athlete Caitriona Jennings, who got the time in Rome just a fortnight ago, concurred.

"They should definitely be telling us earlier, even just for the sake of the three athletes who are going to be going so that they can finalise their training plans. June 12 is only about six weeks before the Olympic marathon, it's just crazy," she said.

Ava Hutchinson (DSD) has the fastest qualifying time (2:35.33), followed by Jennings (2:36.17), DSD's Byrne (2:36.23) and Letterkenny AC's McCambridge (2:36.37).

But AAI has already stressed that selection will not be based on time but on a combination of factors, including current and past form, their competitive record against each other and age.

AAI has set June 12 as the selection date for their 'road' athletes (marathon and 50km walkers) and July 9 for all others, but the marathoners say that's too late. Byrne expressed disappointment that winning the national title does not afford an automatic spot as it has done previously and McCambridge went so far as to say that Byrne should go because she is the national champion.

The Irish championships are now run in conjunction with the Dublin Marathon, and all four women raced in it last October, when only Byrne got the qualifying time.

It emerged yesterday that the Dublin organisers made a proposal a year ago that would have solved the current dilemma. "The old criteria was that the national marathon champion automatically qualified once they got the (qualifying) time," Dublin Marathon race director Jim Aughney said.

"We made that proposal to Athletics Ireland and the OCI last year.

"We were actually suggesting that all three (Olympic) places be decided in Dublin but, as a compromise, we asked that at least the winner of men's and ladies' should be selected, but that was rejected as well."

Raheny's Barbara Sanchez is still hoping to get the qualifying standard in Copenhagen on May 20, which may yet throw up another contender.

Byrne and McCambridge have plans to run in upcoming half-marathons, but Jennings feels that judging marathon form on other distances is an inappropriate barometer.

"I know the selectors have said that every run you do until June 12 will be counted but I think that's exceptionally unfair," she said. "Can you imagine turning around to Usain Bolt and saying, 'if you win the 800m trial, you can run the 100m in the Olympics'?"

"It's just a very difficult situation. The four of us are friends, we train together as part of the 'Marathon Mission' squad, but one of us is going to be devastated."

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