Monday 23 October 2017

Ankrom: I'm fully committed to Irish athletics

JOHN O'BRIEN in London

Athletics Ireland high performance director Kevin Ankrom has angrily refuted suggestions that he is seeking a job closer to his native home in the United States, even though he is contracted to his current position until 2014.

He also dismissed claims that he has no faith in Ireland's track and field athletes and that the best part of being in London for the Olympics was that he got to meet friends he had made on his travels around the world.

The claims appeared in a newspaper interview published on Friday in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier in the small Florida town where Ankrom grew up and where his family still lives. In the article it is stated that Ankrom was actively seeking employment in the US and that his mother was anxious to see her son, who has two young children, return home. "I would hope that he will soon return to live in the United States," she said.

Ankrom insists, however, that the quotes were taken out of context. "That's my mom," he says. "I've basically been abroad for the past 10 or 12 years and of course she'd love to see me returning home. She's always wanted me to come home, even when I was in Hong Kong and New Zealand.

"She hopes that one day I'll be looking for jobs back home, but not now. Four or five years ago I applied for a job with the US Olympic Committee. But that was the last job I applied for in America."

In the article Ankrom himself talks about the experience of being in London. "The most enjoying [sic] part for me being in London and at the Olympic Games is catching up with all my old friends and former teams like Hong Kong, New Zealand and Bahrain," he said. "I have a global network of friends and family and the Olympic Games is an opportunity for me to see them all once again."

Again Ankrom told the Sunday Independent yesterday that the context is misleading. "The reporter was asking me a few questions based on the experience of being in London, not around specific performance issues. What's the food like? What's the best thing about the city? He wasn't asking specifically about medals. I was talking about the experience away from performance."

In the article, however, he states that Ireland "is not in a position to win any medals" and while it might seem unwise for a man in Ankrom's position to broach such a view, he insists he is merely being realistic and that he is fully behind his team and confident they can deliver big performances.

"Of course I want to win medals," he says, "but I have to be honest with my athletes and realistic too. It would be absurd to suggest I didn't believe in them. I'm a huge supporter of my athletes. I want them to win.

"But the fact is we don't have a high opportunity to definitively say we will win medals. Rob Heffernan on his day, if things go right, can definitely contend for a medal. Publicly, we all want to see our athletes win medals. The reality is, is Rob tracking high enough to definitively challenge for a medal? We'd all love to think so but only time will tell."

Ankrom has been in his position for 15 months now and his time in Ireland has not been short of controversy, most recently when several athletes were omitted from the team for the European Championships despite having the required standard and in the appeal and counter-appeal farrago that clouded the selection of Catriona Cuddihy on the women's 4x400 relay squad.

Ankrom is adamant none of the Irish athletes will be adversely affected. "The total focus for me is always to move forward," he says. "I'm not dealing with something that's in the past. It really isn't appropriate to talk about something that happened last week when a full week of hopefully good performances is ahead of us. I'm looking forward to this week.

"The athletes here are totally focused too. That's why we brought them into camp here at St Mary's. The athletes are in a bubble here. They're in an environment where they can just focus on performance. That's what we've done and thanks to the OCI, the medical staff and all the volunteers, the set-up has been excellent."

Ankrom's contract runs for another two years and he insists he remains fully committed to seeing out his term. "Yes of course I am," he says. "You're hearing it from the horse's mouth now. I'm here for one reason. That's for the athletes and to improve Irish athletics. There's still a lot of work to be done."

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