Lombard Paris-bound after 5,000m breakthrough


Athletics: Irish 5,000-metre running has been significantly boosted by the performance of Cathal Lombard, who ran a world class 13 minutes 19.22 seconds in Heusden, Belgium, on Saturday night. It was the most exciting improvement so far for the Corkman, who is now certain of selection for this month's World Championships in Paris. Ian O'Riordan reports.

Lombard had travelled to the Grand Prix II meeting confident of his form, yet to dip under 13:20 has underlined his world-class potential. It was an improvement of just over 20 seconds on his previous best, and at age 27 there should be several more years of improvement to come.

Most significantly for now, his time is inside the A qualifying standard (13:21.50) for Paris, and with no other Irishman likely to approach that time in the coming weeks he is thus in line for his first appearance at a major outdoor championships.

But it is also the fastest time by an Irishman in the two years since Mark Carroll began concentrating on the marathon. From an Irish viewpoint, the best run over the distance this season had been Alistair Cragg's 13:25.59, clocked while running for the University of Arkansas earlier this year. But the South-African born Cragg, who has declared for Ireland, has been injured in recent weeks and won't be aiming for Paris.

On Saturday, Lombard's run was good enough for fifth place in a field of 27. He split a host of Kenyans, with two just ahead of him and two more at his heels. The surprise winner was Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea, who clocked 13:11.07.

Lombard, who is based in Dublin and coached by Joe Doonan - formerly coach to Catherina McKiernan - had made one other big breakthrough this season when running 28:05.27 for 10,000 metres. That time, achieved in England last month, is also inside the B-standard for Paris and it is understood Lombard will ask to be picked for both distances.

It was some 18 months ago that Lombard came under the guidance of Doonan, and that has made for a significant change in his fortunes. Earlier this year he indicated what might be in store when he finished second in the national cross-country championship before turning his attentions to the track, running a lifetime best of 13:39.54 in Eton on June 14th. His 13:19.22 now ranks seventh on the Irish all-time list and also makes him the first Irish male to get an A standard for Paris.

Also producing a class run in Belgium was James Nolan, who lowered his lifetime best for the 1,500 metres to 3:35.69. That left him a close fifth behind four Kenyans, and also gave him the B standard for Paris to match the achievement two weeks ago of Gareth Turnbull, who ran 3:36.60 in Germany.

Under IAAF rules, however, only one B-standard athlete per event per nation can compete at the World Championships, so this weekend's National Championships in Santry will involve a head-to-head between Nolan and Turnbull to decide who will gain selection.

Nolan's previous best was 3:36.30.

Unfortunately there was no joy for any of the three Irish women in the 5,000 metres in Heusden, the best being the ninth place by Breeda Dennehy-Willis in 15:36.44, some 16 seconds short of the B standard for Paris.

Marie Davenport was 16th in 15:56.96 with Marie McCambridge 18th in 16:15.75. Davenport already has the B standard for the 10,000 metres.