World's top athletes enticed north of Border as facilities here lose out
SOME of the world's top distance runners are training hard for the Olympics in Ireland -- although most of them are north of the Border.
The contrasting fortunes of the Republic and the North were laid bare as some of the world's top distance runners are training in Antrim in the lead-up to the Games.
But south of the border, there has been a failure to attract international teams for pre-Olympic training camps. One of the key barriers was that Ireland was competing with British cities who were able to offer cash incentives of between £25,000-£50,000 (€32,000- €64,000) for teams to use their facilities.
Ireland's largest sports facilities had no such carrots to offer with only the National Aquatic Centre, in Abbotstown, attracting the US synchronised swimming team and some world-class water polo teams.
A spokesman for Sports Minister Leo Varadkar said that given the current economic climate it was not possible to compete with the UK. "Economically it would not be justifiable; it was never going to be considered," he said.
In contrast, funding was available in Northern Ireland and has helped attract a particularly high-profile Middle Eastern athletics group. Sudan's Abubaker Kaki, one of the top 800m runners in the world, will arrive in Belfast on Sunday. And he will join a training group that already features world-class runners from Qatar, Oman, Egypt and Djbouti, all jointly coached by Jama Aden.
It includes Qatar's Hamsa Driouch, who won the World Junior 1,500m title last week, and another potential Olympic 1,500m medallist in Ayanleh Soulieman. Further runners from Somalia, Sudan and Algeria are set to join them
But the real superstar is Kaki, a two-time world indoor champion who took 800m silver at last summer's World Championships. By coincidence, the man who beat him then and who is the big 800m gold medal favourite in London -- world record holder David Rudisha -- is trained by legendary Cork man Br Colm O'Connell in Kenya.