Irish athletes will get at least once chance to compete at home in order to seek a qualification standard for next month's European Indoor Championships in Torun, Poland.
Over the weekend Athletics Ireland confirmed the cancelation of the National Indoor Championships, which were scheduled to take place at the Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena on February 20th and 21st; instead, they are looking to stage three micro-meetings, similar to what UK Athletics have announced, over three days that same weekend, with strictly limited events and athlete numbers.
Irish athletics coach Feidhlim Kelly has welcomed the decision, but also believes more clarification is needed on the status of "elite" athletes, who are allowed to travel abroad to compete similar to professional or elite team sports. Kelly has several athletes in contention for selection for the European Indoors, though not all are in a position to travel.
“It certainly seems like the European Indoors will happen,” says Kelly, “and to be fair Athletics Ireland are doing their best to put on those one-off events here, because for a lot of athletes it’s just about getting the races to qualify at this stage.
“The issue around elite athlete status has certainly improved, though it’s a bit slower compared to some other sports. The problem with athletics is that they are considered individuals, while with team sports there is usually a number, so Athletics Ireland might need say an elite endurance running panel of 40 athletes, or 20 sprinters, and go about it that way. That would make it a little easier, and that’s a matter for Sport Ireland as well.”
Any athlete considered “elite” by Athletics Ireland also has an exemption to continue to train in Level 5, using the National Indoor Arena if required, once they have a letter of exemption from the AAI High Performance Director Paul McNamara.
Several of Kelly's athletes from the Dublin Track Club,, including the top three finishers in the men's 1,500m last summer (Paul Robinson, Seán Tobin and Andrew Coscoran), plus Michelle Finn (women's 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase) and Iseult O'Donnell (800m), have been training abroad in Portugal, and this weekend will race indoors in France.
Mark English, another of his athletes and who won European Indoor bronze over 800m two years ago in Glasgow, has opted not to race abroad for the time being, given he's currently working as a medical doctor. Sprinter Phil Healy has also opted not to race aboard at this stage, given the risks around Covid-19. Ciara Mageean, who also won bronze over 1,500m two years ago, has raced in Germany already and several other Irish athletes are also set to race this week in Ostrava.
According to Athletics Ireland, the selection policy for the European Indoor Championships will be updated to reflect the changing circumstances. "We are examining alternative options which would allow for a Covid-19 compliant event for European Indoor qualification purposes and for the attainment of World Ranking points towards Tokyo qualification.
“Entry will be restricted to athletes tracking towards Olympic Games qualification and European Indoor Championships qualification, details of which will be published as soon as all details are confirmed and agreed with Government. “
Among the Irish athletes to show impressive indoor form already is Nadia Power, who took over three seconds off her lifetime best to clock 2:02:44 in Vienna on Saturday, which eclipsed the previous national record of 2:02.46, which had stood to Siofra Cleirigh Buttner since 2018.
Also in Vienna, Limerick sprinter Ciara Neville opened up her indoor season by equaling her lifetime indoor best in the 60m of 7.30 seconds, the joint-second fastest by an Irish woman. Sarah Lavin also from Limerick also clocked a new personal best of 8.24 to place fourth in the 60m hurdles, putting her in contention for selection.