Olympic sweat for marathon four

Caitriona Jennings has admitted missing out on the Olympics having achieved the necessary qualifying time would be “devastating”.

That is the fate that awaits one of four of Ireland’s elite female marathon runners though, with countries only allowed to select a maximum of three contestants.

Having to leave out a runner with an ‘A’ standard is an unusual problem for Irish selectors but when Jennings ran 2.36.14 in only her second ever marathon at Rotterdam less than three weeks ago, she created just such a situation.

Linda Byrne (2.36.23), Ava Hutchinson (2.35.33) and Maria McCambridge (2.36.37) had already attained the required mark.

The quartet train together as part of the Marathon Mission high performance group and are good friends as a result. Still, one has to wonder if the other three muttered a few oaths when Jennings scuppered their serene preparations for London.

“I’m sure part of them probably did,” laughed Jennings at yesterday’s launch of the 2012 Dublin City Marathon, “but we’re all very happy for each other. And it is a fantastic achievement for Athletics Ireland, for the standard of women’s marathon running in the country and I’m sure it will result in greater numbers of female athletes wanting to run marathons.

“I think it’s also a huge tribute for the Marathon Mission squad. If you look back to Beijing in 2008, we had one female athlete who had achieved one ‘B’ standard, whereas this time we have four ‘A’ standard athletes.

But Jennings didn’t take two months off work as a tax advisor with Price Waterhouse Cooper to prepare for Rotterdam, just to get the qualifying time and then not travel to London. But four into three will not go.

“It’s going to be absolutely devastating for the person that doesn’t make it. I know each of us hopes it isn’t us but we do train together, we’re all friends, we’re all part of the Marathon Mission squad. We know each other well so it makes it even more difficult to be in the position.

“From my perspective, I’ve done the time and am just getting back into training to make sure I’m in the best possible shape so that if I do get selected I will be able to run very competitively.

Jim Aughney, Dick Hooper, Jim Davis, Eugene Coppinger and Teresa McDaid have proven a vital support network within the Marathon Mission group and becoming involved when the concept was established in December 2009 has transformed Jennings.

Her initial sporting interests revolved around the local swimming club in Letterkenny before the triathlon bug took hold. She represented Ireland three times at youth level but by her own admission, lost the necessary discipline required to advance when going to college.

Ten years ago, after moving to Dublin, she joined Rathfarnham AC but it wasn’t until she hooked up with her current coach, Terry McConnon in 2007 that ambition began to take a hold again. She got involved with the Marathon Mission squad and began participating in mini-marathons, winning Dublin last year.

At that stage, the Olympics had crystallised as a goal and a very clear programme was put in place.

Although very new to this level of competition despite being 31, Jennings doesn’t have to go far for advice and inspiration. Her elder sister Sinéad is a former world champion rower who was only denied a place in London as a cyclist by a burst tyre last November.

“Sinéad is fantastic in that she is so talented and it’s just so unfortunate that her Olympic dream was never realised. She is a huge inspiration to me because she’s always so positive.

“Seeing her perform at a high standard, made me realise that maybe I could do it as well. She’s been great for advice as well. It’s important to have someone to talk to about things. I suppose I’m fairly new to the game and she’s been around for a while.”


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