Cuddihy's Olympic send-off falls flat


ATHLETICS/NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS:HOW MANY times must an athlete chase an Olympic A-standard before the time runs out? The answer may well be blowing in the wind, or else lost in the drizzling rain.

And how many times should an athlete be told that yes, they’re selected for the Olympics, only then to be told actually no, they’re not? The answer there is surely once is one time too many.

Maybe it wouldn’t be a proper Olympics after all without a row of some sort, and while these national championships were billed as the last chance for athletes still chasing London qualifying standards, they ended up being overshadowed by the athletes already selected for the women’s 4x400 metres relay.

What should have been a triumphant send-off for Joanne Cuddihy ended up being an emotional illumination of just how upsetting the selection controversy had become. Cuddihy won her fifth 400 metres title (having also won the 200 metres on Saturday), and instead of taking any great satisfaction, took the chance to explain just how badly wrong the Athletics Ireland selectors handled the situation – and not just the way they handled her younger sister, Catriona, who took fifth in the same race behind three other relay team members Marian Heffernan, Michelle Carey and Claire Bergin.

Joanne Mills didn’t race, as she’s preparing for this week’s World Junior Championships in Barcelona, but was told on Saturday afternoon that she would be going to London after all, after appealing the decision of Athletics Ireland to select Catriona Cuddihy ahead of her as one of the six relay team members.

“Hats off to Catriona for coming out here and running anyway, with the pressure of the world on her shoulders,” said Cuddihy. “Because we’ve all had this sickening feeling, all weekend, so I for one am just glad to get this race over with.

“I mean this relay team is a fantastic team, and I love being a part of it. I just hate to see this happen. So many things, I think, should have, could have, been done differently. Because the way it’s turned out has just been cruel. Even yesterday, after my 200 metres, I was pleased with my own performance, but my mind was 100 miles away, all weekend.”

Catriona then confirmed that she would be making a counter-appeal to the Olympic Council of Ireland: “All I’ve done is inform them that I would like to make an appeal, and I’m waiting for them to get back to me. I haven’t put in the grounds of that appeal yet, only that I was appealing.

“John Foley (the chief executive of Athletics Ireland) just advised me to contact the OCI myself about the appeal. I don’t know if anything like this has really happened before, so I don’t really know what the process is. It’s been very hard, trying to stay focused on my race, trying to keep it together. I’m happy I ran as best as I could here, because that’s all I can do.”

Both the Cuddihy sisters put on a brave face, and yet what all members of the relay team seem to agree on is the decision to announce the team last Tuesday, when last night was the deadline, was premature, when the national championships would have been the perfect platform for athletes to demonstrate the form before the selection was made.

“When we were told in Helsinki, last weekend, that the team was being named on Tuesday we all said, ‘what?’ Catriona, especially, thought that was crazy, because all summer she’s been preparing for the nationals, her coach saying it was the time to be running fast,” added Cuddihy. “So the decision to pick the team before the nationals came a little left-field. I can’t say much more, because I don’t know all the facts, except that I’m just baffled by the whole thing.”

It’s made for a cruel and unusual end to an otherwise mostly productive qualifying campaign for Irish athletes, although cruelly short, it seems, is the only way of describing Steven Colvert’s quest to qualify for London in the 200 metres. With the A-standard at 20.55, Colvert was temporarily elated when he won his heat on Saturday in 20.40 – before the wind reading came up as +3.0 metres per second (with +2.0 being the legal limit), and so the chance disappeared.

Others making final efforts in Santry were Jason Smyth in the 100 metres, but his dream of becoming the first Irish athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics now over as he took second to Paul Hession in 10.38 – needing 10.18 to get to London. Hession finished brilliantly to snatch victory on the line in 10.37, and retain his title of Ireland’s fastest man going into the Olympics, but the wet track hardly helped Smyth’s quest, even though he tried bravely to go where no man had gone before.

The Barr siblings, Jessie and Thomas, also gave the 400 metres hurdles A-standard one last shot, but while conditions didn’t help and London has proved beyond them too, Rio in 2016 can’t come soon enough: Jessie, 22, defended her women’s title in 57.33, and Thomas, still only 19, also won a second successive title in 50.87.

Among the few other London-bound athletes who did underline their form was Tori Pena, who cleared 4.35m to defend her pole vault title, while Deirdre Ryan jumped 1.80m to win the high jump, and Colin Griffin took his first senior title on the track when winning the 10km walk in 41:47.66.

Two Irish athletes chasing A- standards abroad also fell short – with Brian Gregan running 46.09 in a Madrid 400m race (needing 45.30), and Donegal junior Mark English running 1:46.20 for 800m (needing 1:45.60).

However, there was a welcome return to form for Colin Costello from Meath to capture the 1,500 metres in 3:54.54 – clearly tactical, but with the former European Junior champion rekindling some of his old spark. One of the youngest senior champions was 18-year-old Dean Cronin from Blarney, who timed his final sprint to perfection to win the men’s 800m in 1:52.47: Maria McCambridge, who had the A-standard in the women’s marathon but missed out on selection to three others, won some consolation by claiming the 5,000 metres in 16.02.50.

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