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Saturday 10 December 2016

Athletics: Relay men set for Bahamas

Ireland's Mark English takes the baton from Brian Gregan during their 4x400m men's relay final where they finished 5th in a new national record time of 3:01.67
Ireland's Mark English takes the baton from Brian Gregan during their 4x400m men's relay final where they finished 5th in a new national record time of 3:01.67

A strong Irish men's 400m relay squad heads to the World Relays Championships in the Bahamas early next month.

It's all part of an ambitious plan not only to get an Irish 4x400m squad into the final of next year's Rio Olympics, but to improved standards in both the sprints and hurdles.

"It ties in well with what we're targeting, and developed out of our performance at last year's European Championships," says Kevin Ankrom of Athletics Ireland.

"We are pushing for the relays and hopefully good sprinters will come out of it."

At the European Championships in Zurich, the Irish men's team of Brian Gregan, Brian Murphy, Richard Morrissey and Thomas Barr set a new Irish record of 3:03.57 in the heats and improved that to 3:01.67 in the final when Mark English ran the second leg.

Also doing well was the women's 4 x 100m team with an Irish record of 43.84 in the heats, although they did not progress to the final.

"In the past, we might have had four or five guys for a 4 x 400m team. Now we have eight - and there are loads of younger athletes coming through."

Among those on the senior squad are Gregan, Morrissey, English, the much improved Dara Kerwick and Timmy Crowe, backed up by Craig Lynch, Brian Murphy and Paul Murphy. Harry Purcell and Brandon Arrey, two of the younger athletes, were sent to the European Indoors to give them a taste of international athletics. "In the past, you had to run under 47 seconds to make our relay team. Now it's 46 seconds - or even 45 seconds."

The team is currently ranked in the top sixteen in the world, with sixteen places on offer at next year's Olympics. "We're eleventh overall and we'll need to run 3 mins 1 sec at least. The top eight from the World Relays will secure a place along with eight other teams."

On the ten-day trip, the squad will travel to Gainesville in Florida for some warm-up races and training and then hop over to the Bahamas. "We initially thought of going to the Penn Relays, but we realised we couldn't do both. It would involve travelling to the USA and back and then to the Bahamas."

Also on the schedule for the World Relays are 4 x 100m, 4 x 200m and distance medley relays. "We've been debating whether to send a women's 4 x 100m squad becasue we have soem good women sprinters. Unfortunately, we don't have the same kind of depth there that we have in men's 400m. You need six to eight athletes to be effective."

"Plus we would love to compete in a DMR - it's an event that suits us very well. Imagine a team of Paul Robinson, Brian Gregan, Kevin English and someone like Ciaráin Ó Lionaird if they were all fit and at their best."

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