3 NI athletes selected for Rio Marathon this August
Athletics NI officials were in celebratory mood last night when an unprecedented 3 NI marathon runners were selected by Athletics Ireland to compete in the Rio Olympics in August. Annadale's Paul Pollock (Andy Hobdell), Kevin Seaward (Andy Hobdell) of St Malachy's and North Belfast's Breege Connolly (Paul Elliot & Mary Dean) have all now achieved their athletics dream of representing their country at the highest level.
The announcement is particularly memorable as the last occasion on which NI track and field athletes competed in the Olympics was back in 2000 in Sydney when 800 metres athlete James McIlroy participated along with relay runners Paul Brizzell, John McAdorey and Paul McKee.
The selection of Holywood doctor Pollock was especially satisfying as he is currently only ranked 4th in the Irish marathon list, with only 3 being selected for Rio. His time of 2 hrs 15 mins 38 secs from Berlin last autumn is, in fact, 24 secs slower than Clonliffe's Sergeiu Ciobanu time from the same race who has been named as Reserve.
The Irish selectors however, clearly felt that 29 year-old Pollock was the class act as shown by his outstanding recent 14th place in the World Half Marathon in Cardiff where he defeated Ciobanu by a huge margin of almost 4 mins. Immediately after this Paul sustained a foot injury which has now healed.
A delighted Pollock said,
"I am a very happy man tonight. It's been a very long month and the decision could have gone either way. I will hopefully do justice to my selection by performing well in Rio."
The selection of Seaward and Connolly was much more straightforward with both athletes always firm favourites to make the plane for Rio. 29 year-old Cardiff-based teacher, Seaward, is the current Irish No 1 marathon runner with a time of 2.14.52 from Berlin. He was a member of the highly successful Irish team which finished 7th in the European Championships in 2014.
38 year-old Connolly was however, on tenderhooks in recent weeks due to her concern that her 3rd Irish fastest time of 2.37.29 from London a year ago, would be overtaken by other contenders for Rio. However, despite several efforts by a number of runners she retained her 3rd slot, with North Belfast team-mate Gladys Ganiel (Matt Shields)now being named as Reserve.
A much relieved Connolly commented that she had found the recent weeks quite stressful since she was never sure as to whether other athletes would beat her London time.
Connolly will be joined in Rio by Cork's Lizzie Lee and Kilcoole's Fionnuala McCormack. Raheny's Mick Clohisey completes the trio of male selections.
Separately Pollock, Seaward and former St Malachy's athlete Gary Murray will represent Ireland in the European Half Marathon in Amsterdam in July. The Women's team includes Connolly and Ganiel.