Wednesday 26 October 2016

Men's Rio race is not so clear-cut

Breege Connolly is a clear-cut choice for the women’s marathon in Rio (SPORTSFILE)
Breege Connolly is a clear-cut choice for the women’s marathon in Rio (SPORTSFILE)

Next Monday, the six Irish athletes selected to run the marathon at the Rio Olympics will, at last, be named.

For the women, picking the three should be simple enough.

Lizzie Lee of Leevale tops the list with her time of 2:32.51 from Berlin. Next is Kilcoole's Fionnuala McCormack and finally there's Breege Connolly of North Belfast Harriers.

Connolly nailed down her qualification time of 2:37.29 at the 2015 London Marathon and then sat tight.

Four years earlier, she had narrowly missed out on qualifying for the London Olympics, but this time she knew she had run the race of her life and believed it would prove enough.

While others chased qualification times all over Europe, she held her nerve, her winter training interrupted only by a February visit to California, where she ran a respectable 77 mins 12 secs for the San Francisco Half Marathon.

Proof that her careful approach was working came less than a fortnight ago when she ran a personal best 16 mins 39 secs at the Ballyshannon 5km.

Lizzie Lee has stayed close to home since last September, running cross-country over the winter. Her place looks secure and once it's confirmed, she'll start preparing for the expected Rio weather with a few weeks' warm weather training.

The big question mark concerns Fionnuala McCormack who has qualifying times for both the 10,000m and the marathon, which come within two days of each other on the Rio schedule. Running both looks impossible.

One option for McCormack would be to run the 10,000m or the team half marathon at the European Championships, where her chances of a medal are better. If she opts out of the Olympic marathon, next on the list is Gladys Ganiel O'Neill, a clubmate of Connolly's, who ran 2:38.53 in Seville last February.

That's also where Mick Clohisey of Raheny virtually nailed down his place on the plane for Rio with his time of 2:15.11 lifting him into second place on the rankings behind Kevin Seaward on 2:14.52.

In third place is Sergiu Ciobanu of Clonliffe, who decided not to chase a faster time after running 2:15.14 in Berlin last September.

For the selectors, the big dilemma is whether to pick Paul Pollock of Annadale, who finished just four seconds behind Ciobanu in Berlin.

At the World Half Marathon, his time of 62 mins 46 secs put him well ahead of all the other Irish. But he picked up an injury and didn't run the London Marathon.

So he is still fourth on the list - just as Maria McCambridge was for London.

Who would be a selector?

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