Athlone becoming a fast favourite


ATHLETICS:Eamonn Coghlan always said an indoor track is only as fast as the athlete running on it, and it’s probably true, most of the time, although that’s not saying some indoor tracks can’t inspire some fast times.

Just ask Brian Gregan, for starters, who in the first senior event at the new Athlone International Arena, ran the fastest indoor 400 metres ever seen in Ireland, and with that also secured himself a qualifying time for the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg.

Nor was Gregan the only one, as a range of performances at the Athletics Ireland Indoor Games – the premiere event for the €10 million facility at the Athlone Institute of Technology – provided ample proof that Ireland doesn’t just have a proper indoor running track at last, but surely a very fast one too.

Even accounting for the excitement of the opening itself, Gregan produced the most exceptional performance of the day, his 46.07 seconds well inside his previous indoor 400m best of 46.66, and eclipsing the Irish all-comers indoor record of 46.19.

Qualifying mark

More importantly perhaps, it was well inside the 47.20 qualifying mark for the European Indoors, set for Gothenburg on the first weekend in March, and actually establishes Gregan as one of the early contenders: indeed given the ease with which he appeared to run 46.07 – cruising the first lap in 21.9, then fairly coasting home from there – the 23-year-old Dubliner clearly has a lot more in the tank.

“Brilliant track,” declared Gregan afterwards, not surprisingly so, and there was also an indoor personal best behind him for Waterford’s Thomas Barr, the 400m hurdles specialist, who ran 47.46.

Athlone also produced the fastest indoor 3,000m ever seen in Ireland, as Spain’s Juan Higuero ran 7:52.14, holding off team-mate Cassado Arteuro, with fourth place going to Alberto Sanchez from Sligo AC in an excellent 7:59.14, inside the European Indoor standard of 8:00.0 – with Dubliner and AIT student John Travers finishing fifth in 8:02.58.

Britain’s Matthew McLaughlin clearly liked the track too, winning the 1,500 metres in 3:42.87, breaking their 27-year-old national junior record and qualifying him for Gothenburg.

Darren McBreathy will have to try again, however, taking third in 3:45.38, but shy of the 3:43.0 standard, with John Coghlan next best of the Irish in fifth, running 3:37.93, while Thomas Chamney, finied sixth in 3:48.85.

Rob Heffernan took a break from his winter training to line up in the 3,000m walk, winning comfortably in 11:13.92, and although that was just short of his own national indoor record of 11:10.02, the popular Cork athlete is clearly ready to build again on his fourth place finish at the London Olympics.

Waterford’s Kelly Proper won a long jump-spring double, first leaping 6.04, then coming back to win the 60m in 7.55, holding off Niamh Whelan, who had earlier won the 200m in 24.43 (third place there going to Marian Heffernan, wife of Rob).

Performances of note

Other performances of note included Siobhán Eviston’s second place in the 800m, clocking 2:04.35, with Donegal youngster Karl Griffin’s 1:51.73 for second in the men’s 800.

One more indoor result, further afield, saw Waterford’s David McCarthy run another sub-four mile, clocking 3:57.22 in Boston, while back home Mary Cullen made a welcome return by winning the Raheny five-mile road race in 25.55, with Joe Sweeney winning the men’s race in 23:52.

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