Christine Coffey reports on the strong display by the UCD student-athletes at the Irish Life Health Elite Micro Meet that took place this weekend.
Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena played host to the Irish Life Health Elite Micro Meet, a welcome return to indoor competition for some of Ireland’s elite athletes. With the European Indoor championships scheduled for March 5th to 7th in Poland, this government approved event was restricted to athletes looking to achieve European Indoor and/or Olympic Games qualification, as well as a select number of additional competitors to ensure the events could be used for qualification purposes. Several UCD A.C. athletes were in action over the weekend, getting a rare opportunity during lockdown to compete at this level.
Ellie Hartnett was the first of the UCD Bears’ athletes to take to the starting line in the women’s 1500m on Saturday, day one of the competition. Amy O’Dunoghue had been very close to meeting the European Indoor Championship (EIC) standard recently and she, along with pacemaker Michelle Finn were pulling away from the field. However, O’Dunoghue pulled up after just over 1200m, and neither she nor Finn finished the race. Hartnett showed good focus in her performance, running her own race and finishing first with a strong 4:35.27.
The men’s 800m began shortly after, and former UCD athlete Mark English was involved in what was probably the most exciting finish of the weekend. English, the 2019 Bronze medalist who is currently plying his trade for Finn Valley A.C. broke his own 800m national record, crossing the line a mere .03 of a second ahead of 18-year-old Cian McPhillips. Both English and McPhillips, as well as third place John Fitzsimons, finished well within the EIC standard for this event.
Darragh McElhinney was next up in the last race of the day, the men’s 3000m, finishing 2nd with an U-23 national record of 7:50.80. The bristling pace of the final few laps was felt by all the athletes, who lay strewn across the track in the near empty stadium after performances that saw the top four athletes under the EIC standard.
Day two saw more record-breaking performances from UCD athletes, beginning with Luke McCann in the 1500m. McCann finished in first place, clocking in at a personal best of 3:40.03 and moving up to 3rd place in the list of 7 Irish athletes coming in under the EIC standard. In an interview with Athletics Ireland following the win, McCann briefly discussed some of the difficulties he faced training with his dad Clarke, who is also his coach, over the Winter period. The young UCD athlete and his sister “used a path along the Collingwood Luas for [their] track sessions” and were able to “make do with what they had” before they once again had access to the track. He seemed somewhat disappointed not to break sub-3:40 but determined to “keep trying to PB”, with one eye on the European Indoor Championships and another on dream of potentially qualifying for Tokyo.
The last representative from UCD was Israel Olatunde in the men’s 60m event. In the first series, Olatunde smashed the existing Junior and U-23 records with a personal best of 6.74, finishing second in a strong field of sprinters. However, this record only stood for the hour between this race and the second series, where Olatunde shaved an extra .01 of a second from his time.
The weekend’s proceedings were broadcast live over YouTube in their entirety, and the brilliantly funny commentary brought the competition to families, friends and fans of the athletes, who, for obvious reasons, couldn’t be there in person to support as they would have liked. Restrictions have meant that the preparation and qualification for these tournaments contrasts greatly with the usual athletics calendar, but the outstanding performances of the UCD athletes in this well-organised event made for an overwhelmingly positive weekend for the club and its supporters. Olatunde, McCann and McElhinny join former UCD students English and Ciara Mageean on the Irish team for the European Indoor Championships this March.