Ten share in Olympic grant of £150,000


THE final round of grants to athletes preparing to compete at this summer's Olympic Games were announced in Dublin yesterday with a total of £150,000 awarded to 10 sports people under the Olympic Aid Atlanta scheme.

Four athletes - Sonia O'Sullivan, Catherina McKiernan, Michelle Smith and Nick Sweeney - will receive £20,000 each while the other awards vary between £10,000 and £15,000.

In order to qualify for funding under the scheme athletes must be considered to be realistic medal prospects for the forthcoming Games and Olympic Council of Ireland president Pat Hickey said yesterday that he was confident that the fund would be enlarged considerably at the start of the build-up for the 2000 Sydney Games.

"This initiative is probably the most significant thing that has happened in my time with the OCI and I'm fairly sure that it's only the beginning in terms of funding this country's top athletes. We've had a lot of positive signs that it will be repeated and enlarged after Atlanta." be said.

Hickey defended the funding of high earning athletes like O'Sullivan on the basis that "she had a lot of lean years in her day and we felt that this time around it would be terrible for her to be discriminated against on the basis of her success". However, he did concede that her position may be reassessed when any new scheme is considered.

Hickey's predecessor as Ireland's member of the International Olympic Committee, Dr Kevin O'Flanagan, accepted an invitation yesterday to become a member of the Dublin International Sports Council (DISC).

"We encouraged this and are delighted about it," said Hickey. "There has been a problem with the council in that they had nobody who actually knew that much about the Olympics and that led to problems with us but now they will benefit greatly from Kevin's expertise."