Pick n’ mix Europe reaches crisis point

by Karl Graham

SONIA O’Sullivan believes that the emergence of African athletes competing for European nations is causing a crisis for Irish athletes.
O’Sullivan, who has been appointed ambassador and champion to the 2016 Vodafone Dublin City Triathlon on August 28, was asked at the launch if the scenes witnessed at the recent European Athletics Championships had the potential to plunge European athletics into calamity.
“I think it is a crisis right now, I think it’s definitely come to a head and it’s going to be sorted out pretty soon. [European Athletic Association] president Svein Arne Hansen is very proactive about trying to take action.”
O’Sullivan was part of RTE’s three-person panel for coverage of the championships alongside Derval O’Rourke and Jerry Kiernan, and was very critical throughout of main offender Turkey sending seven Kenyan-born athletes, two Jamaicans, an Ethiopian, a Cuban, a South African, a Ukrainian and an Azerbaijani to represent them.
Many of these athletes went on top dominate their rivals including Kilcoole native Fionnuala McCormack who finished fourth behind Kenyan Vivian Jemutai – now known as Yasemin Can in Turkey – who won gold in the 10,000m
“It’s like being a professional team rather than a country – it’s like Manchester United,” said O’Sullivan.
Olympic silver medallist O’Sullivan also spoke about the difficulty Ireland seems to have with developing athletes between junior and senior levels. The country’s athletes came away with just one bronze medal for Ciara Mageean in the women’s 1,500m.
O’Sullivan can’t pinpoint the exact problem but the many distractions modern children have these days certainly can’t help. “There is so much other stuff for kids these days it is very hard for them to focus on just one thing when it is not always going right for them.
“There are always good young athletes. If you go to Irish schools there is some great talent. Just the development from that age through to seniors, something seems to go wrong there,” O’Sullivan said.
The Cobh native was, however, more upbeat on the progress Mageean now finally seems to be making at the age of 24, despite turning down several offers to follow in O’Sullivan’s footsteps and accept a scholarship from an American university.
“She [Mageean] is the only Irish athlete who has won a medal at the World Junior Championships. I remember sitting down with her in 2010. She had come back with her medal and she was doing an interview and we had a chat about her maybe going to college in America but I could sense she had no interest in doing that.
“At the same time, it has still taken her five years to become a good senior athlete so looking back on that, it is comparable to when I did go to college in America except that I was more hidden away. She was more visible here with expectations each year on what she was doing,” O’Sullivan continued.
There was also agony at the championships for the men’s 4x400m relay team who fell short of the qualifying time for Rio by seven hundredths of a second, but O’Sullivan reckons the relay should be looked on merely as a bonus.
“It actually surprised me that they did so well. It shouldn’t be a priority. It should just be an extra relay, because most of the 4×4 relay teams have somebody in the team who is in the final. And we have nobody in the final. Thomas Barr, of course, could be in the final. Mark English could be in the final.”
The Vodafone Dublin City Triathlon will take place on August 28 and will begin with a fast swim in the River Liffey before transitioning to the Phoenix Park for the fast bike and run courses. The event is suitable for novices as well as experienced racers, with participants able to choose between an Olympic distance race and a Sprint distance race.

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