‘Dream come true’ - 11 athletes join the automatic Irish qualifiers

After Tuesday’s close of business, they were inside the ranking quota for their events

Imagine waking up in the morning to discover you’ve qualified for the Olympics, then having to double check to make sure the dream is indeed the reality. Suitably enough perhaps the road to Tokyo has ended up like that for a lot of athletes.

Such was the long and convoluted qualification system in track and field - on top of one-year postponement of the Games themselves - that at times the whole thing felt like one long moveable feast or famine. Until midnight on Tuesday, which was the cut-off date for the Tokyo qualifying standards or ranking points that ultimately decided the case.

After that close of business, 11 Irish athletes have found themselves inside the ranking quota for their events, which will make up the small numbers on top of the automatic qualifiers: on the women's side these are Eilish Flanagan (3,000m steeplechase),  Phil Healy (200m and 400m), Nadia Power, Síofra Cléirigh Büttner and Louise Shanahan (all 800m), Sarah Healy (1,500m), and Sarah Lavin (100m hurdles).

On the men's side there are also four more: Leon Reid and Marcus Lawler (both 200m), Andrew Coscoran (1,500m), and David Kenny (20km walk). Some were closer than others, hence the need to double check.


There are still a couple more sitting just outside their qualifying quota, most notably Ciara Neville (100m) and Kate O’Connor (heptathlon), plus Sean Tobin in the men’s 5,000m, who over the next 24 hours or so may yet get a call-up depending on how exactly the final quota places fall. Shanahan just got in ahead of Georgie Hartigan over 800m by virtue of winning the national 800m title at the weekend, each country only permitted to name three athletes per event.

There is however a question mark over the selection of Reid, who won the Irish 200m title in Santry over the weekend, moving himself up to 42nd in the rankings (with 56 invited). Last month, the 26-year-old sprinter appeared at Bristol Crown Court (along with 17 other defendants) via video link where he denied eight charges relating to drugs and firearms offences in England. A preliminary hearing is expected on July 23rd, but the trial is not expected to begin until November at the earliest.

Ratification of his selection is now a decision firstly for Athletics Ireland, and then the Olympic Federation of Ireland. “Today was all about cementing that place, I’ve done everything I possibly can,” Reid said at the weekend, before later adding that Olympic selection would mean “everything” after all he’s been through.

For now at least these 11 athletes join the automatic Irish qualifiers, the last of which was Mark English, who booked his Tokyo berth a matter of hours before that midnight deadline. After several weeks and races knocking on the door of the automatic qualifying time over 800 metres, English lined up at the Meeting Castello near Barcelona and by the finish effectively blew the door down - clocking a brilliant 1:44.71 and with that improving the long standing Irish record of 1:44.82 which had stood to David Matthews since back in 1995.

Already automatically qualified in their events were Ciara Mageen (1,500m), Thomas Barr (400m hurdles), Michelle Finn (3,000m steeplechase), Paul Pollock, Stephen Scullion and Kevin Seaward (men's marathon), Fionnuala McCormack and Aoife Cooke (women's marathon), Brendan Boyce (50km walk), Alex Wright (20km) - plus six additional spots as part of the 4x400m mixed relay (one of which is set to go to Phil Healy).

It makes for 28 qualifying berths in all, 11 more than the 17 who qualified for the athletics events in Rio 2016: of those 11 qualifying by ranking, all will be making their Olympic debut, the youngest of which is Sarah Healy, the 1,500 runner only turning 20 in February. Power is just 23, with Coscoran also poised for his first Olympics in the 1,500m aged 25.

Some unquestionably benefitted from the additional year of preparation, not least Lavin in the 100m hurdles; she sustained a horrific ankle injury in early 2020 which likely would have ruled her out last year: “Honestly for me, and I know it’s so clichéd, it would be a dream come true,” she said recently. “When I started out in the hurdles, at age seven, if I ever thought all that happened to me up to this point happened, only in my wildest dreams would I believe it.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics