Cuddihy backs Euro switch

THE introduction of a two year-cycle for the European Championships was originally met with scepticism, particularly as it means an extra event in Olympic year but Joanne Cuddihy is one athlete who welcomes the decision.

Cuddihy, the national 400m record holder, sees it as ideal opportunity to get momentum going in the lead-up to London 2012.

“It will be Olympic year and you can bet the standards will be really high that year,” she said. “Every other continent in the world has a championships pre-Olympics but we always end up floating and then everything comes down to the Olympics. It is almost too much.

“The European Championships in Helsinki in 2012 will be very good from our point of view, especially when it is all in Europe and it won’t entail that much extra travel. I think it will make for a really exciting year.”

The Kilkenny woman has the distinction of winning Australian, New Zealand and Irish national championships this year but was beset by injuries on her return from Down Under and barely made the start line in Barcelona, where she just failed to make a final.

Irish team manager, Patsy McGonagle, who will again lead Irish athletes up to another Olympics, admitted that he was sceptical at first about the two-year cycle.

“When I first heard about them I was not in favour but that’s probably because I’m a traditionalist and I see championships for what they are,” he said.

“Looking at it from an athlete development point of view it is going to be good and it could provide athletes with their sights on the Olympics with an opportunity. It would be an absolutely great relay opportunity as those opportunities are not easy to get otherwise.”

The marathons and walks will not be included in what will be a shortened five-day programme in Helsinki – June 26-July 1 – so it will not affect Irish walkers who will be medal contenders in London.

Robert Heffernan, who had back-to-back fourths in the 20k and 50k walks in Barcelona last week, will be putting the final touches to his Olympic preparations.

“It all comes down to making what I had this year more solid all year round,” he said. “I think if I had the set up that I had for the last two months in Cork, I could be a more consistent athlete all year.

“I’ve said it. It’s a financial thing. Liam O’Reilly has always helped me out when I was younger. It is not professional. People are coming in and helping here and there and they are making commitments.

“That is fine for a while but it’s never long term. I know in other countries – I’ve trained in Poland and Spain – where there’s not just one race-walking coach but pockets from around the country who are on a salary.

“I’m getting by now but it’s the generation after me that need to be looked after. There are massive cracks in the system. I haven’t got to where I am because of a system. It’s nearly by chance and taking advantage of opportunities that I’ve created myself.

“I have set up my own system ever since I was younger. Whether it was through John Hayes in Togher, moving on to get help from Michael Lane and then moving on to someone else. I was just learning as I went along.

“Ivonne Cassin is brilliant. After Berlin last year when I broke away from Robert Korzienowski people were questioning was I mad but it has worked out well. Jacinto (Garzon) helps me with my programmes and Ivonne fine tunes them.

“Looking back on it now with Robert (Korzienowski) I was just thrown into the group as a sparring partner for other athletes – I was down in his pecking order and convenient for him – but, having said that, the foundation I got at that time is paying off for me now.

“I go away to altitude in South Africa and I go to Monte Gordo and I have Ray (Flynn) with me but the stuff I do at home every day is exactly the same and it’s not just periods of three weeks. I don’t have somebody with me at home. You wouldn’t see Ronan O’Gara going down to the Mardyke and kicking a ball over the bar on his own.

“There should always be someone there. You need to get things analysed and you can’t do that on your own and until we have that mentality that athletics is a proper profession and proper support we may sporadically bring athletes through but it won’t be consistent.”

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