Leeside set to offer training outlet for Olympic athletes

AMERICAN athletics chiefs are on the look-out for an Irish base for their Olympic team ahead of the London Olympics in 2012.

“The American athletics team coming to the Cork City Sports have asked us to look out for accommodation where they could base themselves over the next few years in the lead-up to London,” said Tony O’Connell, Cork City Sports PRO yesterday.

“We are talking to other bodies, including Cork City Council, about how we can encourage athletes to take up residence here in the lead-up to the Games. We have the facilities here in Cork – in CIT, the Mardyke and so on – to accommodate them.”

O’Connell was speaking at the launch of the 58th Cork City Sports, which will feature Irish sports stars Derval O’Rourke, Kelly Proper and Robert Heffernan as well as former World cross-country champion Benita Johnson of the USA, World high jump champion Vyacheslav Voronin of Russia and Commonwealth 400m champion Aliann Pompey of Guyana.

Although the impact of the worldwide downturn was a talking point, O’Connell pointed to the positive aspects of the long-standing event.

“It’s worth a huge amount in revenue to the city,” he said.

“There are hundreds of athletes and their supporters, Brookfield Village accommodation centre is booked out, and there is fantastic exposure for Ireland and for Cork in particular – the event is on the IAAF website.

“We also have 3,500 to 5,000 people attending the event so the revenue generated runs to millions of euro.”

Cork City Sports chairman Dick Hodgins admitted that the recession had impacted on the event, saying they had been forced to “cut their cloth” accordingly but stressed that event organisers were happy that the meeting was going ahead and that their main sponsors had stayed on board.

“We’re supported by the Irish Sports Council, Cork City Council, Cork Airport, Musgraves and others. They’ve been behind us for a long time but it’s difficult to get new sponsors. It’s also become more difficult to get athletes in from abroad – in previous years you might have six or seven overseas competitors in every event, but we may have only four or five this year. To balance that, however, we have a good line-up of Irish athletes – Derval, Paul Hession, Alistair Cragg and so on.”

Hodgins pointed out that Cork is defying the trend in Europe, where other meetings have fallen by the wayside in the current economic downturn despite having some natural advantages over the Irish event.

“Because we’re on an island we have to fly athletes in, whereas if they’re in Germany they can nip over to Holland very easily. Having said that, some meetings in Europe are not going ahead this year as a result of the recession while ours is going ahead. We have a very good reputation as a friendly meeting for participating athletes, which has always been a selling point.”

World records have also been a selling point for the meeting – Hodgins pointed to Yuri Sedykh’s hammer throw in 1984 and Sonia O’Sullivan’s two-mile record at the 1998 meeting.

“Sonia always supported us,” said Hodgins, “She was very good to us for years and other athletes came to Cork because of her. Now there’s a new generation of athletes coming through and they’ll be here on July 4 as well.”

Hodgins also pointed out that the Cork City Sports is the only international athletics meeting which will be held in Ireland this year: “It’s an achievement in itself, the fact that Cork can do something Dublin can’t.”

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