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Ciara Mageean tops list of Ulster aces off to Rio Olympics

By Brian Hill

European 1,500m bronze medallist Ciara Mageean heads a record-breaking list of eight Ulster athletes who will be competing in the Rio Olympics after being named in a 17-strong squad by Athletics Ireland yesterday.

The eight stars represent the largest number of local participants to compete in track and field events at an Olympics.

Mageean is joined in the Ireland squad by 800m runner Mark English, who has just returned from injury but has managed to clock a time of 1.44.84 in the past.

There are three marathon runners included - Paul Pollock (Annadale AC) and Kevin Seaward (St. Malachy's) will compete in the men's race while Breege Connolly (North Belfast) will race for the women's title.

Donegal native Brendan Boyce is also included in the squad for the 50k walk.

The final two local athletes are Kerry O'Flaherty (Newcastle), who will race in the steeplechase, and Tori Pena (Finn Valley), who will contest the pole vault.

Five of the eight selected for Rio competed in last week's European Championships in Amsterdam. The main star was Portaferry's Mageean, who became the first ever athlete from Northern Ireland to medal at the event when she picked up bronze on Sunday.

Her 1,500m race was a typical Championship burn-up in the last 600m, where her tactics to race close to the lead, and ability to stay out of trouble, paid major dividends.

The 24-year-old (right) covered the final 400m in under 60 seconds, which bodes well for Rio. Her current peak form could well translate into a place in the final, where the African competitors will be keen to take advantage of the absence of the Russian athletes.

The selection of Pollock and Seaward follows excellent runs in the European Half Marathon at the weekend, where they finished 17th and 34th respectively.

While Seaward is currently the fastest Irish marathon runner with a time of 2.14.52, Pollock is only fourth fastest, some 24 seconds slower than Sergiu Ciobanu of Clonliffe.

Former Moldovan runner Ciobanu appealed his omission from the squad to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in May, arguing that the selection process was biased against him.

However, his appeal was rejected.

North Belfast ace Connolly has been picked on the basis of her London Marathon time from last year of 2.37.29.

O'Flaherty ran her second fastest time in Amsterdam of 9.45.83 and is one of a trio of Irish girls competing in the steeplechase in Rio.

Pena, who has a pole vault personal best of 4.60 metres, will also compete next month.

Boyce will be looking to improve on his 29th-placed finish in the 50k walk at the 2012 London Olympics.

The rest of the Irish track and field team: Thomas Barr (400m hurdles, Ferrybank); Ciara Everard (800m, UCD); Fionnualla McCormack (10,000m/marathon, Kilcoole AC); Mick Clohissey (Marathon, Raheny); Lizzie Lee (Marathon, Leevale); Michele Finn (Steeplechase, Leevale); Sarah Treacy (Steeplechase, Dunboyne) Rob Heffernan (50k walk, Togher); Alex Wright (50k walk and 20k walk, Leevale).

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