Athletics body seek to extend Athens qualification date

THERE will be no last minute race for qualifying standards for next year’s Olympic Games and Irish athletes will be selected only if they achieve the A standards as the Olympic Council of Ireland strives to get the best prepared team ever to Athens.

The OCI have set June 30 as the cut off point for achieving the standards laid down for selection but the Athletic Association of Ireland are to seek to have this date extended and brought in line with all other countries.

International Secretary, Liam Hennessy said yesterday they would be hoping that the national senior championships would be the final date for posting a qualification standard with the team to be selected that day, if necessary, by the Olympic Council.

The 2004 standards are the severest in the history of the Olympic Games but this is the result of an agreement between the IOC and the IAAF to, for the first time ever, limit the quota of competitors in athletics to 2,000.

“For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games there will be quotas in athletics and swimming,” the Hon General Secretary of the OCI, Dermot Sherlock, said yesterday. The A standards are quite tough in most of the events and some people say they may not even reach the quota of 2,000.”

The Olympic Council of Ireland will only accept A standards when they finalise the team and this fact will definitely limit the number of Irish athletes who will be involved in the Games. The standards are similar to those laid down for this year’s world championships in Paris and, according to Mr. Sherlock, could be adjusted upwards pending the results from those.

At this point, however, it is the June 30 deadline that is bothering the Athletics Association of Ireland.

“It is something we are hoping to go back and negotiate with the OCI,” Liam Hennessy said. “Our final date for qualification has always been the national championships in the Olympic year just as it is for the world championships this year.”

“As things are right now athletes will have from January 1 this year to June 30 next year in which to achieve the qualifying standard for Athens which means, basically, that the standard will have to be achieved this year unless somebody was to go to South Africa or Australia to do it.

“The fact of the matter is that the season does not get under way until the European Cup in the third week of June and the main season does not start until the beginning of July.

“People would be planning to peak towards the end of August when the track and field programme at the Olympics takes place. Middle distance runners, in particular, could be depending on the major meets to get their qualifying standard.”

There is an exception in respect of relay teams dictated by the fact that the IAAF will not name the top 16 teams in the world until a couple of weeks before the Games.

“I know we have gone through it a few times already but I feel there is a case for revisiting the matter again and opening up a discussion for the sake of the athletes.”

Dermot Sherlock said they would prefer to see athletes in the weeks leading up to Olympics preparing for the Games rather than chasing a qualifying standard which could mean arriving in Athens a spent force.

The Olympic Council of Ireland has told Federations that if an athlete has not qualified by the last date for qualification, he or she will not be accepted for any place which may become available through other NOC’s not accepting their qualified athletes.

For Athletics and Swimming the OCI will only accept A standards.

Formal contracts for athletes, officials and National Federations are in the process of being produced.

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