Master Class from Irish M55s

27 March 2019

Ireland continued to punch well above its weight on the fourth day of the World Masters’ Indoor Championships in Torún, Poland. Incongruously the meeting also includes cross country and road events as well as throwing contests such as javelin and hammer not usually associated with indoor athletics.

Highlight of Wednesday’s competition was a rare Irish one-two in the men’s M55 10K road race with Mick Byrne and Paul Cowhie showing a clean pair of heels to a strong international field. Byrne’s winning time of 34:07 was a national age group record. Ireland also picked up team gold with third scorer Mick Feery also handily placed in 16th.  

Sligo man John McDermott was the best of the 400m runners striding to an gold medal in the M75 age group clocking impressive 67.28 seconds in the process. There were silver medals for both Seznana Bechtina and Annette Quaid in the W35 and W40 age groups with both running personal bests of 58.14 and 58.90 seconds respectively.

World Champions – Ireland’s M55 Cross Country Team

Ireland’s harrier tradition paid dividends in the cross country where the green singlets claimed a bagful of medals.  Pride of place went to Dubliner Annette Kealy who was a winner of the W50 title coming home just two seconds clear of her nearest rival Susan McDonald from Great Britain. That helped the Irish woman to team bronze in the age group.

Pauline Moran went close to a second individual win when she took runner-up spot in the W60 race, ending up 23 seconds in arrears of Spain’s Teresa Rufaza at the finish line. Jackie Post added a second individual silver in the W45 age category and Donegal woman Kay Byrne finished fifth in the W55 race, just 21 seconds from an individual medal, leading the Irish to team bronze.

Cool running from Tommy Payne lands him his second silver medal.

There were more medals in men’s races with Wicklow man Tommy Payne running a well-judged race to take runner-up spot in the M60 race. Former Olympian Shane Healy threatened to run away with the M50 event. 

Shane Healy

The former 3:35 1500m went into what appeared to be an unassailable lead after two laps but the eight kilometre distance proved to be a marathon rather than a sprint for the Metro athlete.

There were obvious signs of the wheels coming off on the third lap before he was caught and passed on the final circuit by Germany’s Miguel Molero who went on to win quite comfortably. Healy dug in on the final lap to salvage the individual bronze and help lay the foundations for team silver.

L-R: Ian Egan, Robert Maher and Cathal McLaughlin

Derry Track Club’s Cathal McLaughlin had cruel luck after finishing 12th and second Irish scorer. He had omitted to attach a timing chip to his shoe and appeared in the results as a DNS. As Ireland were still third despite his absence from the listings, no appeal for re-instatement was made by the team management.

The M55 team went one better but only after two amazing strokes of luck. Initially placed third, the trio which included Castlederg runner Mark Connolly, was elevated to the gold medal positions when a competitor from both apparent winners Great Britain and second-placed Poland had competitors who were disqualified for not wearing numbers on their backs.

Earlier there medals for Kealy and Payne in the 3000m where Drogheda runners Mary Leech (W40) and Mark O’Shea (M45) both achieved podium places.

At the time of writing Ireland sit a proud 12th in the medal table of the 53 countries who have achieved a podium place.

McKenna Strikes Gold in Larne

Vincent McKenna scored his first major road race victory when he finished strongly to take the honours in the AES Larne Half Marathon held in cool conditions on Saturday morning. The Acorns AC runner crossed the line in a personal best 69 minutes and 40 seconds after turning in a strong second half of the race.

Vincent McKenna at NI Road Relays

The QUB graduate, whose previous best of 71:08 came at last year’s Belfast Half Marathon, was in second spot at the halfway point which he reached in 34:51 as Foyle Valley’s Gary Slevin cut out the pace up front. McKenna quickly closed the gap in front on the way home and had 18 seconds to spare over the Derry man at the finish line.

The consistent North Belfast Harrier John Black took third in 71:01, seeing off the challenges of Foyle Valley’s Craig Simpson (72:05) and the leading Master athlete Pierce McCullagh who completed the top five in 72:15.  The apparently indestructible Tommy Hughes, 59, set a new Irish Masters’ M55-59 record with a 72:36 mark in seventh place overall.

In the women’s race, Laura Graham continued an impressive return to racing after months out of competition on account of a lingering Achilles injury. The Mourne Runners’ athlete, who made her comeback with a second place in Jimmy’s 10K on St. Patrick’s Day, was timed at a credible 75:46.

Laura Graham back to her best.

North Belfast Harrier Gladys Ganiel was second woman across the line in 76:06 as North Down’s former NI & Ulster cross country champion Jessica Craig impressed over the longer distance by taking third in 79:25. Springwell’s Ciara Toner (79:37) and Karen Alexander (82:30) made up the leading five ladies. Results –

In other road race action, James McFadden was the winner of the Hugh Gallagher Memorial 5K in Milford, Co. Donegal on Friday night with a respectable 15:58 clocking on a tough circuit. John McFadden (16:22) and Ivan Toner (16:26) occupied the minor places on the presentation podium. Fionnuala Diver led the women home with a 18:59 timing from Denise Ward (19:14) and Gemma McGinty (19:20).

Meanwhile Ireland finished third overall behind England and Scotland at the SIAB Home Countries Schools International in Dublin. England won all four individual and team races as well as the inaugural mixed relay. Ireland failed to pick up an individual medal but took runner-up spot in the Intermediate Boys’ team competition and the relay.

Jack McCausland

RBAI’s Jack McCausland and Michael Morgan, from Summerhill College in Sligo, shared the distinction of being the top Irish competitors with fifth place finishes in the Junior and Intermediate Boys’ races respectively. Ireland led the relay for the first three legs but were overhauled by England on the final straight.

New Olympic Standards Challenge Irish Athletes

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

These were the words of the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron de Coubertin, but the Games in Tokyo next year seem to have taken a pronounced shift away from that with a toughening of the standards and a change of system for qualifying in all the athletics events.

European Indoor Medallists Ciara Mageean and Mark English

The IAAF have replaced the old qualifying standards with a new dual qualification process.  Standards still apply but these are now a lot more demanding. Athletes can also gain selection on the strength of their world ranking. The latter is anything but simple with points for both performance and bonuses for winning national championships.

The IAAF wants to achieve 50% of target numbers for Tokyo from athletes achieving the standard for their event with the remaining half from the new world rankings system.  If applied today only two athletes, Thomas Barr and Ciara Mageean, would represent Ireland in track and field in the Japanese capital.

Mageean ran 4:04.13 which is inside the IAAF’s standard of 4:04.20 while European bronze medallist Barr’s 48.31 in the 400m hurdles is well inside the required 48.90 seconds. However, Leon Reid (200m), Phil Healy (400m) and walker Alex Wright are only marginally outside their respective qualification marks and who would dismiss Mark English running 1:45.20 after his splendid bronze medal performance in the European Indoors recently.

Those most affected are the female steeplechasers and the marathon runners. Ireland had a full complement of three in these events at the Rio Games but it is unlikely that even one will be present in Tokyo. The women’s steeplechase now requires running 9:30 or better which only one Irish athlete, Roisin McGettigan, has ever bettered with her national record (9:28.29). The respective marathon times (2:11:30/2:29:30) would place in the top four all-time Irish performances for both men and women.

The IAAF announcement came as nothing short of a kick in the teeth, or any other part of the anatomy you care to choose, for Belfast marathon man Stephen Scullion. The Clonliffe Harrier felt he was a shoo-in for Tokyo after running 2:14.34 in Houston back in January but now has to start afresh on his journey toward the Rising Sun. He has been trying to make sense of the new qualification system.

“The 1080 points, I scored at Houston for 2:14:34, won’t be good enough unless it’s combined with perhaps 1130-40 points, and that might bring my average to around 1110, a score I predict will be good enough for the Olympics,” he blogged.

“….As you can see, Houston Marathon as far as I can see it, will not be good enough to contribute to being an Olympian, even though in 2016, the fastest Irish marathon runner to make RIO was 2:14:55. Sigh!”

Surely when the French nobleman came up with vision for the modern Olympic Games, he did not intend that they should be exclusively for just the “Citius, Altius, Fortius”. Was it not an untrained Greek shepherd, Spyridon Louis, who won the first marathon in Athens 123 years ago? The sport lives on but the romance seems to be dying almost by the day.