Yale's Dooney tops class as others freeze in chilly test
Ireland's best European Cross-Country performance outside the senior women yesterday came from Ivy League student Kevin Dooney, who finished 18th in the men’s U-23 race.
Not far off him was Belfast’s Paul Pollock, who returned from over a two-month injury lay-off to finish 23rd in the men's senior race.
Last year's runner-up Polat Kemboi Arikan (24) just pipped his young Turkish team-mate Alia Kaya (last year's junior champion). Defending champion Alemayehu Bezabeh was third. All three have switched nationalities from either Kenya or Ethiopia in recent years.
The gulf between them and the rest of the field – the 29-second back to France's Florian Carvalho was the biggest ever between third and fourth – once again raised questions about the effect of such transfers on European standards and morale, especially as two-time champion Bezabeh also served a two-year ban for doping in 2011-13.
Pollock said he had no problem with such transfers, saying "if they’re eligible to compete that's fine," but did add "people failing drug tests is probably another matter."
DSD's Breandan O'Neill (29th) and Aussie-born Kevin Batt (31st) were just over 10 seconds behind him and Mick Clohisey's 44th helped Ireland to sixth spot in the team competition.
But Dooney's performance was otherwise the best of the day in an U-23 race in which Russia completed a clean sweep of all the medals and Tullamore’s Liam Brady ran well to finish 26th.
The Raheny student finished 34th at NCAA nationals this year and flew in from America four days beforehand to try to acclimatise to the cold (-2 yesterday) and altitude (1300m) and he improved 20 places on his finishing place last year.
Little was expected of Ireland's inexperienced athletes in the U-23 women and junior races; the best in each were Orna Murray (UCC, 40th in U-23), Kevin Mulcaire (Ennis, 33rd in junior men) and Hope Saunders (35th in junior women).
Ireland didn't even bother sending a women's U-23 team last year because Athletics Ireland felt they weren't up to the standard and given yesterday's tough conditions and competition AAI might have to look at other options to harden them up in the coming years.
One athlete who certainly defied expectations yesterday was Tralee's Shona Heaslip (An Riocht).
Her 42nd place in the U-23 women was notable given that she only took up running six months ago when she gave up competitive Irish dancing, in which she used to compete at world championship level.