Ambitious Kevin Ankrom targets 24 medals in strategic three-year plan by Athletics Ireland

High performance coach aims to secure 12 of those in 2013

Athletics Ireland’s high performance director Kevin Ankrom: “There are several athletes who for one reason or another don’t reach Sports Council criteria, that are still supported by us,” he said yesterday. Photograph: Inpho

Athletics Ireland’s high performance director Kevin Ankrom: “There are several athletes who for one reason or another don’t reach Sports Council criteria, that are still supported by us,” he said yesterday. Photograph: Inpho

Fri, May 17, 2013, 02:00

Nothing in the sporting strategy grabs the attention more than the medal predictions. It doesn’t really matter if it’s gold, silver or bronze, as long as it hangs on a nice shiny ribbon, and comes with the photo opportunity of standing on the podium. If everything goes to their plan, Athletics Ireland are counting on 24 medals in the current Olympic cycle, up to and including Rio 2016.

If that seems a little ambitious they’re already ahead of their target: 12 medals are predicted for 2013, including one at the European Indoors – when they came away with two, Ciarán O Lionaird and Fionnuala Britton winning bronze over 3,000 metres. This may soon become three, assuming Derval O’Rourke is promoted to bronze in the 60 metres hurdles following the positive doping test of Turkish champion Nevin Yanit.

Such winning of medals was the inevitable focus of the “High Performance Strategic Plan 2013-2016”. Presented in Dublin yesterday by Athletics Ireland high performance director Kevin Ankrom, there are several more fundamental components, including the appointment of more full-time coaches, and a change in athlete funding criteria to include more cross-country performances.

‘I’m targeting 12’
“Well I’ve done my homework,” said Ankrom, “and this is evidence-based, not about waving a magic wand. These are where the medal opportunities lie, within the potential of where we’re going. I’m targeting 12 medals this year, but then we have a lot of meets (including European Under-23s, junior, and Youth Olympics). There are less in 2014. But that would include one medal at the World Championships in Moscow this summer.”

Race walker Rob Heffernan is the sole and obvious target there, although Ankrom wasn’t yet making definite predictions about Rio 2016. “Well I’m not saying we have a medallist at this time. What I will say is we will have athletes knocking on the door of medals. Mainly coming from this cycle, because I think most of those from 2008, and 2012, are dropping off now,” he said.

The sub-title of the plan (some 14 months in the works) is “more athletes winning on the world stage”, and one of the key components in that quest is “change”. Ankrom admitted it includes himself, or at least certain aspects of his approach, given he was subjected to certain criticism in the aftermath of the London Olympics, particularly when it came to athlete communication. “Definitely, and I’d be the first to raise my hand on that.”

Financial investment will be largely made from “the top down”, although with some shift in focus. Ankrom also believes in targeting the 19-23 age group, as opposed to the average junior, or under-19.

Brian Gregan, 400m runner, gave the plan his backing, and reckoned the system now delivered on all his requirements, from facilities to medical back-up. “The one area that might be improved is some international training experience, either by training with groups abroad or bringing them to Ireland,” he said.