Targeted Olympic qualification approach pays off for Irish trio in Letterkenny

Kerry O’Flaherty, Michelle Finn, and Sara Treacy all run inside time for 3,000m steeplechase in Rio

That old feeling of waiting around for something only for it to arrive in multiplicity is certainly true about the three Irish women who qualified for the Rio Olympics in the same race. Although it certainly wasn’t by accident, either.

Kerry O'Flaherty, Michelle Finn, and Sara Treacy had all been moving in on the 3,000 metres steeplechase qualifying time of 9:45.00, and Friday night's Letterkenny AC International meeting was designed to get all three of them inside it. The steady pace-making, couple with near ideal running conditions, ensured exactly that – and rarely, if ever, have three Irish athletes secured Olympic qualification in the same race.

While the American Jamie Cheever took the win, her time being 9:40.99, second place went to O'Flaherty (9:42.61), third to Finn (9:43.34), and fourth to Treacy (9:44.15) – all three Irish women therefore inside the Olympic mark of 9:45.00. It doesn't yet guarantee their selection for Rio, although it certainly puts them in pole position.

There was an added bonus for both O’Flaherty and Finn in that their time is also inside the 9:44.00 qualifying mark for next month’s World Athletics Championships in Beijing, although Treacy just misses out. Still, together they bring to eight the number of Irish athletes already qualified for Rio next summer,


For O’Flaherty, the Down athlete who runs with Newcastle AC, it’s actually been a long time coming. The 33-year-old had been moving in on qualification for the London Olympics, only to fall short, but enjoyed an excellent season last summer, qualifying to represent Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Last month, she ran a Northern Ireland record of 9:51.64, in Huelva, although she knocked almost 10 seconds off that on Friday night.

Finn also ran a personal best of 9:49.00 in Oordegem in May, and the Leevale athlete, who won the national title in 2013, always looked capable of qualifying for Rio. Formerly on a US scholarship at Western Kentucky, Finn, 25, was also part of the Irish women’s team who won the bronze medal at the European Cross Country in Bulgaria last December.

As indeed was Treacy, 26, who although the more recent convert the steeplechase, had actually run the fastest of the trio prior to Friday night, her best of 9:47.92 set last summer.

Friday’s race then, staged at the Danny McDaid Track at the Aura Leisure Centre, couldn’t have been much more productive for the three Irish women. Unlike previous Olympics, there is no longer an A and B standard, but just the standard qualifying mark, across all events.

The other five Irish athletes with that standard in their respective events are Thomas Barr (Ferrybank AC) in the 400m Hurdles, Alex Wright (Leevale AC) in the 20km Race Walk, Brendan Boyce (Letterkenny AC) and Rob Heffernan (Togher AC) in the 50km Race Walk, and Breege Connolly (North Belfast Harriers AC) in the women's marathon.

Martin Fagan has also run inside the men's marathon standard, but has since retired from competitive running.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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