Heat is on for ‘Beijing dress rehearsal’

WITH the Olympic Games just around the corner, the world championships, which get under way in Osaka today, has been described as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for Beijing by Patsy McGonagle, Athletics Ireland’s first full-time senior team manager.

As such, it is hardly surprising that the High Performance Committee should put all the resources at their disposal behind the 15-strong squad that covers the widest range of events ever at a major championships.

“It has been a very interesting exercise for everyone involved and I would like to think that we have got it right,” Liam Hennessy, Chair of the High Performance Committee, said last night as he left the IAAF Congress.

“It has been a great year to date for Irish athletics with 11 national records being set. I am not going to suggest that the athletes who set those records will win medals here. There are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account but I would like to see them perform to the best of their ability and if they do that I think everybody should be happy.”

There are athletes that should make semi-finals and possibly get into finals. Alistair Cragg has his sights firmly on a place in the final of the 5,000m. He set a new national record for 10,000m at 27:39.55 at Stanford last April but, after setting a new pb at 13:07.10 in Braaschat in July, he opted for the shorter distance and, given the heat and humidity in Osaka, that may prove to be a wise decision.

But he is in against the Africans once again and, particularly in championship events, they delight in toying with the athletes from outside their own continent.

Two years ago in Helsinki Craig Mottram took the bronze medal away from them but the Australian has been to Gerard Hartmann in Limerick for treatment on a hamstring recently and that could be a worrying sign.

“I am not sure what the problem was but it does not bother me. He is just one other in the field,” Cragg said. “I am focused on myself and my own performance. But this heat and humidity will make it difficult. I must make the final and then see what happens.”

With Kenenisa Bekele, the world leader, concentrating on his defence of the 10,000m title, fellow Ethiopian, Sileshi Sihine, who won the silver medal in Helsinki; Eliud Kpchoge, the 2003 champion; and his Kenyan team-mate, Isaac Songok will be favourites to take the medals although a fully-fit Craig Mottram, would definitely challenge once again.

Since winning a silver medal at the European championships last year, Derval O’Rourke, has had her sights on a place in the final of the 100m hurdles. She had difficulty getting her season off the ground but her last couple of races in Germany where she was just one hundredth of a second off her best time this time last year, indicated that she is on the right track.

She is going to have to run faster than ever before to make the final but that has never been a problem to her in past championships.

“She is in fantastic form,” technical coach, Sean Cahill, said last night. “I think we will see some very good performances from her here.”

Defending champion, Michelle Perry, has been the dominant force in the 100m hurdles all summer, running 12.44 secs in Rome to keep her in the race for the Golden League Jackpot. She was surprisingly beaten by the European champion, Susanna Kallur, in Stockholm, but the Swede will have to run up to her career best of 12.52 secs to make the podium. US champion, Ginnie Powell, ran a pb of 12.45 secs in June but has not been seen since she crashed out in a fall in Rome.

Paul Hession set the Irish records at 60m (indoors), 100m and 200m this season and produces something special every time he steps on to the track. He has opted for his specialist event — the 200m — and could make the final if he has managed to maintain his form.

He said last night he is looking forward to running on the track which has been described as the fastest in championship history.

It is no ordinary track but a culmination of all the technology available. Usually a fast track, because it is hard, is more likely to induce injuries particularly among distance runners. But the new track at the Nagai Stadium is different. By using a double layer surface — harder on top of a softer layer — they have engineered a fast track with injury prevention characteristics along with temperature-controlling components.

David Gillick, the double European indoor 400m champion, predicts that it will produce very fast times. He is another with the talent to make a semi-final. Like Hession he has the toughness needed to get through the rounds, and if he can build on the early season form that saw him set a new national record (45.23 secs) in just his second race of the season he could go close to making the final.

“I would agree that Robert Heffernan is an athlete with medal potential,” McGonagle said. “The climatic conditions would worry me a bit but he certainly could figure in the top 10.”

Eileen O’Keeffe goes into her event after winning a silver medal in the hammer at the World Student Games in Bangkok early in the month.

She threw over 70 metres in almost every attempt at the national championships where she set the national record at 73.21 metres which puts her up in the top dozen throwers in the world.

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