Irish sporting great Eamonn Coghlan has urged the Olympic Council of Ireland to reverse their decision over Olympic qualification times which could see gifted young athletes like Portaferry's Ciara Mageean denied a place at the London Games later this year.
Much to Coghlan's frustration the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) have agreed with the Athletics Association of Ireland (AAI) stating that only those with A standard times will be selected, even though many other countries will be sending athletes with B standard times — or worse.
Several Ulster stars, including 1500metres specialist Mageean, hurdler Ben Reynolds — competing at the World Indoor championships in Istanbul tomorrow — and sprinters Jason Smyth and Amy Foster, could miss out on competing in the greatest show on earth in the summer unless they reach the A standard, or the OCI change their minds.
Coghlan, who won the 5000m at the 1983 World Championships and ran in three Olympic Games, finishing fourth twice, is mystified by the decision which denies talented sports stars the opportunity to race in London.
“I got myself into trouble a year ago when the Athletics Association of Ireland and Olympic Council of Ireland signed a contract to say only A standard athletes would be picked for the Olympic team.
“My personal point of view was and still is that it is ridiculous when you consider the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) have B standards to encourage weaker nations to participate in the Olympic Games. I'd regard Ireland as a very, very weak nation, especially in athletics,” said 60-year-old Coghlan, now a senator in Dublin.
“Why would you discourage an up and coming teenager, someone like a Ciara Mageean or Mark English from Donegal who have serious credentials and are seriously regarded internationally in their age group? If someone like Ciara Mageean missed the A standard by one tenth or two tenths of a second wouldn't it be a shame if she couldn't go to the Olympics, therefore I think we should send selected B standard athletes.
“Four years ago the Olympic Council of Ireland said the same thing about the A standard and they changed their minds and sent a marathon runner, 800 metre runner and two swimmers who had the Olympic B standard. Why they changed their minds then I don't know, but if they did it then why can't they do it now to facilitate our talented young athletes.
“Take Ciara for example — we know how good she is. I believe even at 19 she has the credentials, irrespective if she misses the A standard, to do well at the Olympics and even make the final because she is a great tactician and is a streetfighter. I feel she should be given the chance.
“I would urge them to change their ruling, even though saying that may get me in trouble. The experience of London would be a great learning process so why wouldn't you give them the opportunity? Looking at the bigger picture for the 2016 Olympics these young athletes like Ciara will be coming into their peak then having gained knowledge of the Games in London.”
As well as Mageean — who is competing at the Irish Universities Cross Country Championship in Waterford tomorrow — Coghlan would love to see Reynolds, Smith and Foster involved in London.
He adds: “There is no real expense involved sending our athletes to London, because it's virtually in our back garden.
“This A standard stance makes no sense to me because the IOC and IAAF give you a chance to send athletes over with B standard times, but our very own administrators are not giving those good athletes an opportunity to go the Games.”
Coghlan, who hasn't been to a Games since competing in Seoul in 1988, will be in London shooting from the hip as always as part of RTE's team.
When asked who he is looking forward to seeing most, with a twinkle in those Irish eyes, he says: “Rory McIlroy! I wish golf was in this year, but we'll have to wait a bit for that. Like a lot of people I want to see Usain Bolt going for a sprint double or treble. That should be quite something.”
While savouring the prospect of the Olympics, in the shorter term Coghlan is involved in two other events close to his heart — the Kleinwort Benson Investors St. Patrick’s 5K Festival Road Race on March 18 and the Points for Life campaign which encourages physical fitness, especially amongst the young.
Coghlan, known as the Chairman of the Boards for his remarkable record breaking feats indoors in America during his peak years, is the race director for the 5K, first run in 1983 and organised by his late dad Bill.
Ulster's Kerry Harty, from Newcastle Athletics Club, won the women's event last year and will hope to repeat that success while Eamonn's boy John, who earlier this year made history running a sub four minute mile, making him and his dad the only father and son combination in Europe to have achieved this milestone, will fancy his chances in the men's race.
Around 2,000 serious and fun runners are expected to compete. Eammon wants to see as many people from Northern Ireland as possible in Dublin for the race. Registration can be made at www.patricksrun.com or by post to Mary Friel, Hon. Secretary, MSBAC, Unit 2, Coolport, Coolmine Business Park, Dublin 15. An fee of €20 applies to all entries received before March 16.
Proceeds go to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Dublin.