Belfast Telegraph

Commonwealth Games exclusion has left me heartbroken, says Amy Foster

Devastated: Amy Foster didn’t make NI Commonwealth Games team despite hitting qualification standard
Devastated: Amy Foster didn’t make NI Commonwealth Games team despite hitting qualification standard

By Jim Gracey

Top sprinter Amy Foster last night spoke of her devastation and heartbreak at being surprisingly omitted from Northern Ireland's 88-strong team for the Commonwealth Games on Australia's Gold Coast in April.

The exclusion of Lisburn-based Amy and Newcastle athlete Kerry O'Flaherty, despite both making the Games qualification standard, overshadowed yesterday's team announcement.

Both have reason to feel aggrieved, Foster (29) in particular as the top sprinter in Ireland for many years. This is the first time qualified athletes have not been selected to represent Northern Ireland for the Games with Athletics NI insisting they pushed hard for their inclusion.

But the Northern Ireland Games Council rulers, who finalise the team, decided against their selection, leaving Foster to protest: "I did everything that was asked of me, everything and more. Yet I was not deemed good enough for a place on the Northern Ireland team. I am devastated and heartbroken and feel unbelievably let down.

"I achieved the standard asked of me three times, in three different countries. Importantly, one of those was Australia, showing I can compete in the country and at the time of the year the Games take place."

A few days ago, O’Flaherty suspected she was not going to be selected and said on Twitter: “Not looking forward to 2018. Feeling similar emotions to when Usain Bolt lost his final ever 100 metres World Champs.”

The Athletics NI governing body was at pains to point out that it continually pressurised the NI Commonwealth Games Council over many months to ensure that as many athletes as possible were selected for the Games.

Twelve athletes were selected, including double World Para Athletics Junior wheelchair champion Jack Agnew who is tipped as a future Olympian. This is the second highest ever figure behind the Glasgow Games in 2014 when 14 were selected.

Excluding Agnew, a total of 14 athletes in fact reached the qualification standard for the Games.

But three of these athletes were not selected by the NI Games  Council — sprinter Foster, steeplechaser O’Flaherty and hurdler Molly Courtney. This is the first occasion in which qualified athletes have not been selected and, some would say, reflects the much improved standards  in recent years and the subsequent fierce competition for places.

This is little consolation to the likes of top sprinter Foster. The joint Irish record holder ran a time of 11.43 seconds to win the Irish title last July which was the fastest time recorded on Irish shores for many years.

However the 29-year-old was only ranked 33rd in the Commonwealth where sprinting standards are exceptionally high. A key criteria for Northern Ireland selection was the ranking position of athletes relative to their Commonwealth competitors.

Rio Olympics steeplechaser O’Flaherty competed in the Glasgow Games but missed out this time as, like Courtney, she had only one Games qualification mark whereas the others had two or more.

The athletes list is headed by Euro 1,500 metres bronze medallist Ciara Mageean who is ranked 9th in the Commonwealth. Next is hammer thrower Dempsey McGuigan who has no less than five qualification marks followed by 17-year-old schoolgirl Kate O’Connor in the heptathlon.

The remaining athletes are: Sommer Leckey (high jump), Adam Kirk-Smith (steeplechase), Leon Reid (200 metres), Ben Reynolds (110m hurdles), Adam McMullen (long jump), Emma Mitchell (10,000 metres), Paul Pollock and Kevin Seaward  (both Marathon), Jack Agnew (T51-54 middle distance). The Commonwealth Games in Australia run from April 4 to 15.

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