Athletics Ireland has strongly rejected any suggestion of bias or previous nationality in their naming of the three Irish men's marathon representatives for the Rio Olympics, which saw Belfast-based runner Paul Pollock selected ahead of former Moldovan athlete Sergiu Ciobanu, even though Ciobanu had run the faster qualifying time.
The three Irish men’s representatives, plus the three women, were announced on Monday evening, and the selection of Pollock ahead of Ciobanu was always likely to prove somewhat contentious: Ciobanu was the third fastest qualifier, his 2:15:14 run in Berlin last September, 24 seconds faster than Pollock’s best of 2:15:38, also in Berlin.
The policy of Athletics Ireland did state that selection was “not limited to” times only, although Ciobanu clearly felt let down. He stated on his Facebbook page this morning: “I have placed reliance on the published selection policy and have used that selection policy as the basis of my preparations for the Olympic Games. It’s disgusting to see that rules were not respected. I trusted an Association which I lost respect for.”
Ciobanu has also told other media outlets that he “felt like the fact I was born in Moldova is what cost me my place” and that “I feel like if I was born in Ireland, in the sticks, I would have been selected.”
However, in a statement from Athletics Ireland sent to The Irish Times at lunchtime today, their media spokesperson strongly denied any such suggestion.
The statement in full read: “Athletics Ireland understand the disappointment of athletes who were not selected.
“We categorically and completely reject any inference that an athlete’s background was in any way a factor in the decision. The selection process and criteria has been in place since 2015 and communicated to all.
"The five-person panel of experienced people, Jim Aughney, Eamon Harvey, Patsy McGonagle, Brid Golden, Paul McNamara with Kevin Ankrom as chair, assessed the situation carefully.
“The panel made very difficult decisions given that we were privileged to have to make choices with so many athletes hitting the qualification times. The decisions were based purely on which athletes the panel believed would deliver the best performances at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.”
Athletics Ireland have also confirmed that Ciobanu’s appeal against the selection was submitted at lunchtime, inside the permitted 24 hours: that appeal will now be heard by an independent panel before Friday.
All three Irish men selected will make their Olympic debut in Rio: Kein Seaward was always the fastest qualifier with his 2:14:52 from Berlin last September, followed by Mick Clohisey (who ran 2:15:10 in Seville in February).
What most likely swung that third place in Pollock’s favour is the fact he finished 14th in the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff in March, two minutes and 37 seconds ahead of Seaward, and three minutes and 44 seconds ahead of Ciobanu. He was also 21st in the World Championship marathon in Moscow in 2013.
Still, Ciobanu had done everything possible to make his case for selection. Born in Moldova, Ciobanu came to Ireland 10 years ago, working his way up through a variety of jobs, and also the Irish distance running scene. In 2009, in the colours of Clonliffe Harriers, he was the first Irish finisher in the Dublin marathon, repeated that feat in 2014. Now married to a Kildare women, his transfer of allegiance from Moldova to Ireland was completed last July, with the full backing of Athletics Ireland - who have selected him for last year’s European Cross Country in France, plus that World Half Marathon in Cardiff.
He has also been selected to run for Ireland in the half marathon event at the European Championships in Amsterdam in July, although it remains to be seen whether or not he will take up that offer.