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Irish chasing Swede dream

AFTER months of hard work and anticipation, the country's first purpose-build indoor athletics area finally opens its doors at Athlone Institutes of Technology this weekend.

First athletes to test it out will be the multi-eventers, with juvenile, junior and senior competitions taking place all day on Saturday. Leading the junior women's entry is Sarah McCarthy who jumped 5.90m in the long jump on her way to a score of 2910 at the English Championships earlier this month.

On Sunday, the campaign to qualify for the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg begins.

Two to watch this year are hurdler Ben Reynolds and 800m specialist Mark English. Last season, Reynolds set a new Irish junior record of 13.81 seconds for the 100m hurdles. Last year, he ran 7.74 for the 60m hurdles indoors. Qualifying for Gothenburg is 7.78.

English proved himself the most exciting young talent in Irish middle distance at the moment when he ran a new national junior record of 1:47.7 for 800m last season, just missing out on the Olympics.

Another athlete who just missed out on Olympic selection was Brian Gregan of Clonliffe who ran 46.66 seconds for the 400m last summer. Gregan has been training well over the winter and makes his season's debut on Sunday.

One much anticipated race on Sunday is the men's 3000m, with John Travers, Conor Bradley, Mark Hanrahan and Rory Chesser all chasing the eight-minute qualifying target for Gothenburg.

They will be pushed all the way by a strong entry from Spain including Sligo AC's Alberto Sanchez.

Leading the entry for the men's sprints is Stephen Colvert of Crusaders. Last season, Colvert ran 6.91 for the 60m.

So far this season, Oliver Back has run 6.89 and David Hynes 6.96, both of them inside the seven-second qualifying mark for Gothenburg.

Last year, Hynes topped the rankings for both 60m and 200m.

The competition should also see the return of Ferrybank's Kelly Proper in the long jump after a long period of injury.

Proper has run 7.69 for 60m already this year, putting her just behind Sarah Lavin on the rankings. With Derval O'Rourke battling illness, Lavin also leads the current 60m hurdles list.