Sally Pearson leads all-star cast at Athlone GP

A host of international stars are set to take on some of Ireland’s best athletes at the Athlone International Grand Prix this evening.

Australia has been generating headlines with their bold new format branded Nitro Athletics which was spearheaded by Usain Bolt last week in Melbourne. Some of the stars of the show Ryan Gregson and Genevieve LaCaze have a quick turnaround and will be racing in Athlone alongside their compatriot Sally Pearson who won the 100m hurdles at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“Some people thought it was good and others didn’t,” said Pearson of the new Nitro concept at the pre-race press conference in Athlone.

“I didn’t get a chance to see it because I’ve been in Europe. Genevieve and Ryan said it was fun but wouldn’t want it to replace traditional athletics. We train our whole careers for the traditional side of the sport and it should stay that way.”

There’s nothing more traditional than the mile and Paul Robinson (St Coca’s) will be looking to roll back the years with a primary aim of getting a European Indoor qualifying standard. The Kildare athlete has been struggling with a toe injury since narrowly missing out on a bronze medal at the European Championships in Zurich in 2014.

It has been a nightmare since that famous run in Zurich and a sub four-minute clocking will be a just reward for his persistence. Robinson has only recently returned from Australia himself as he trains alongside Ryan Gregson, an Olympic 1500m finalist in Rio, who will be one of the favourites in the mile, with the Melbourne Track Club. Others in a star-studded line-up include Kenya’s Hillary Ngetich and Belgium’s Pieter Jan-Hannes.

“I’ve only got seven proper weeks of training in so I’ll have to dig in if it’s a really fast pace,” said Robinson. “The aim is to get the European Indoor qualifying time and then run the 3,000m at the national championships this weekend.”

The women’s 1500m looks to be equally exciting with UCD’s Ciara Mageean looking to make her mark ahead of the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade. Genevieve LaCaze and Zoe Buckman will be to the fore with Irish 800m record holder Rose-Anne Galligan (Newbridge) also in the mix. LaCaze was an Olympic finalist in the 5,000m and the 3,000m steeplechase with Buckman making the semi-finals in the 1500m.

Other international stars include Canada’s Melissa Bishop and Denmark’s Stina Troest in the women’s 800m Bishop, who won world silver in 2015, agonisingly missed out on a medal in Rio finishing fourth. City of Lisburn’s will be the main Irish contender Erin McIlveen.

Mark English (UCD) unfortunately won’t be able to contest the men’s 600m as he recovers from injury. Nonetheless, USA’s world indoor 800m bronze medallist Erik Sowinski should put on a strong showing.

Brian Gregan (Clonliffe Harries) will be looking to show his hand in the men’s 400m and dip well below 47 seconds as he prepares for Belgrade.

Meanwhile in Santry Demesne, the Irish Life Health Leinster Schools Cross Country Championships sees some of Ireland’s best young distance talent on show.

Amy Rose Farrell (Mount Anville) recently set an Irish Youth 3,000m record indoors of 9:35.20 but she won’t have it all her own way with Sarah Healy (Holy Child Killiney) still the one to watch.

The Munster Schools Cross Country Championships take place tomorrow in Tramore Valley Park and will also have no shortage of talent on display, with Pobal Scoil Beanntrai’s Darragh McElhinney set to produce another masterclass. The Bantry schoolboy grabbed the headlines earlier this month when he ran faster than John Treacy’s Irish Youth 3,000m record with a swift 8:18.88.

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