Difficult qualifying path as Irish athletes begin medal quest at World Championships

It is, in many ways, a make-or-break weekend for Ireland at the IAAF World Championships in London, with seven of the 11-strong team taking to the track or roads in the English capital over the next two days.

In all likelihood, any hopes of a medal will have to be put on ice until next weekend, when Rob Heffernan goes for what will likely be his last hurrah in the men’s 50km race walk. This weekend, the goal for those on the track with be to navigate the rocky path through qualification, and if Mark English and Thomas Barr can sneak into a final, it would be a superb start.

After Ciara Mageean’s shock exit in the 1,550 heats last night, the first of the Irish into action today will be Brian Gregan, who has a tricky assignment in heat four of the men’s 400m. The 27-year-old Dubliner is the fifth fastest of the eight athletes, so may need to surpass his personal best of 45.26 to secure one of the top three automatic qualifying spots. “Everything has been going well,” said Gregan. “I’ve done some big sessions over the last two weeks and it’s all building up nicely. If I run a PB, I’ve got to be happy.”

Mark English will follow him into action in the fifth heat of the men’s 800m, and his draw is as difficult as it gets. The UCD athlete is pitched in with overall favourite Nijel Amos of Botswana, world silver medallist Adam Kszczot of Poland and France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse of France, who was fourth in the Olympic final. Only the top three will advance to tomorrow’s semi-final, along with six overall time qualifiers, and given English had been blighted by injury, making it through is far from assured.

Tomorrow morning, the Irish duo of Mick Clohisey and Seán Hehir will take to the streets for the men’s marathon, the Dublin-based training partners both making their world championships debuts.

Hehir secured qualification with a personal best of 2:16:18 at the London Marathon, so the city will hold fond memories for the 32-year-old Clare man. “I have a huge amount of friends, family, people from college, my running club, going over to support. I want to do the Irish vest justice.”

With an ultra-competitive field in opposition, Hehir is keeping a cap on his expectations but believes that if he can reproduce a run in the 2:16 region, a top-30 finish may be on the cards. “I’m not going over with delusions of grandeur,” he said. “I know I’m not going to win a medal, but I want to do the occasion and those people behind me justice.”

Though the two are good friends, Clohisey will undoubtedly be hoping to be the first Irishman home, given he was well beaten by Hehir in London, where he finished 22nd in 2:18:34 earlier this year. After a disappointing showing at the Rio Olympics, where he finished 103rd in the marathon in 2:26:34, the 31-year-old Dubliner will be keen to make good on his talent in London. Tomorrow Claire McCarthy fulfils a lifetime ambition and don an Irish vest on the global stage, the 41-year-old Cork woman going in the marathon at 2pm.


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