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Wednesday 7 December 2016

McCormack leads Euro medal hunt

Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack wins the SPAR Great Ireland Run/National 10K championships at the Phoenix Park in April. Picture credit: Sportsfile
Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack wins the SPAR Great Ireland Run/National 10K championships at the Phoenix Park in April. Picture credit: Sportsfile

Fionnuala McCormack of Kilcoole will lead a huge Irish team of almost fifty at the European Track and Field Championships starting in Amsterdam next Wednesday morning.

McCormack is the top-ranked Irish athlete travelling. Her time of 70 mins 44 secs for the half marathon in New York last March puts her fourth on the current European rankings and is not far off the 69 mins 55 secs clocked by Christelle Daunay of France in France last March.

For the 10,000m, McCormack is ranked at No 9, though not a lot separates the top 10. Topping the list is Turkey's Yasemin Can, aged 19, with a time of 31:30.58. McCormack ran 32.05.08 in Stanford last April.

Of the men, Thomas Barr showed a welcome return to form when he won the men's 400m hurdles in a time of 50.28 secs last Sunday. After running a heat as well as a final last weekend, he's looking for races in the build-up to Rio. Currently, the top-ranked European is Turkey's Yasmani Copello Escorbar who ran 48.79 secs in Oslo earlier this month.

In the 800m, Mark English's best of 1:44.84, run in 2013, seems a long time ago now. Last Sunday, he retained his national title in a slow time of 1:51.48 but he's happy to be back on track for Rio. It's worth remembering that English is only 23-years-old and proved that he could take medals when he finished third in the 2014 Europeans.

Likewise his UCD team-mate Ciara Mageean, who is 24, and has also suffered long lay-offs because of injury. She's now back looking strong, with a time of 2:02.84 for 800m and 4:08.05 for 1500m, the distance she will run in Amsterdam. Leading the rankings is Britain's Laura Muir with 4:00.53.

After months battling a debilitating virus, Brian Gregan at last broke 46 seconds this season when he won a closely-fought 400m to win the national title on Sunday.For the past few months, the much-vaunted Irish 4x400m squad had looked in a parlous state, but with four men running under 47 seconds last Sunday, the ship has righted.

Ireland aren't currently ranked, but the squad is capable of running under 3 mins 5 secs, which would put them in the top six in Europe. A place in the final is a definite possibility.

For the first time ever, Ireland will have four relay squads competing at a major championships. While the men's 4x400m looks likely to lead the way, the women's 4x100m also has an outside chance of making the final after running 44.67 secs in Geneva a few weeks ago.

Action for the Irish starts with 400m heats.

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