Investment in specialist sports programmes for children essential

NATIONAL Olympic rowing manager Mike Heskin believes the Government must begin to invest in the development of specialist sports programmes for children, if Ireland is to achieve its sporting potential.

Heskin heaped praise on the high performance strategies of the Irish Sports Council, but thinks more emphasis should be placed at foundation and grassroots levels if Irish competitors are to “step up to the next level”.

His comments came after the Irish lightweight and heavyweight fours finished tenth overall in their respective events at the Olympic Games. Both failed to make the A finals and both finished fourth in the B deciders at Shunyi Rowing-Canoeing Park.

“The feeling is not that we went backwards but the rest of the world is moving on,” he said of the rowing results. “We have received good funding, coaching and preparation. That has taken us to the world level. But to step up to the next level and reach the top is going to take a bit more work. But look at where rowing is at after these Olympics. Look at the canoeist Eoin Rheinisch. Look at our boxers. All are in the top ten in the world. Imagine the delight if one of our golfers, or the national soccer team was ranked tenth in the world!”

The Galway native is convinced Ireland can learn from other countries that identify and develop sporting talent at a younger age.

“The investment in high performance level is excellent and is paying off, but we need to be building from a better base. That is why there should be more investment in primary schools. From a rowing perspective that would mean things like speed potential and development of strength level.”

But he insisted his viewpoints weren’t confined to rowing.

“In general, look at our international soccer and rugby teams and they are not able to close some games out.

“Then look at people of Irish extraction winning medals for other nations in world championships and Olympics.

“It just shows we are not developing our talent as well as other countries.”

He revealed that rowing bosses and other codes have discussed the matter with the Irish Sports Council and have received a positive reception.

“This is not a unique opinion. Other sports are already there and making this point. We are improving as a sporting nation. Look at athletics as an example and the more consistent level of performance we are achieving from a decade or two ago. But producing gold medals still remains the exception rather than the norm. However, more money spent on development and expertise of coaching to bring skill levels up will mean quality down the line.

“Instead of being nearly there we need to start making things happen.”

Meanwhile, Heskin revealed that Gearoid Towey suffered chest pains on Saturday and was forced to withdraw from the lightweight four crew for the B final. Some media reports suggested that the Cork man had suffered from an illness which hit a number of crews and forced the Germans to withdraw from the semi-finals.

However, Heskin said Towey’s problem was not due to a virus. “Gearoid felt a chest pain which appears to be a stress fracture on his rib. We had him assessed by our own doctor and the course medical staff. The advice was for him not to race. He was not fit for rowing so we brought Richard Coakley in.”

He also dismissed suggestions that there will be widespread retirements after the Games with three of the lightweight crew aged 30 or over.

“There is no talk of retirements,” he stressed. “That viewpoint (of quitting in the early 30s) has changed; people are now rowing longer and longer. There were rowers out there last weekend winning Olympic medals in their forties.”

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