It’s finally happened! 51 days into 2021 and we have a sport that’s not rugby, horse racing or dog racing underway in Ireland!
It was more by forced hand than design but the “Athletics Ireland Micro Elite Meet” gave us all something new to focus on; national records and personal best to beat the band.
Cian McPhillips elevation to the second fastest 800 metre indoor runner in the country, in a race where the national record was broken is like something from a fairy-tale in fact the whole event was like a fairy-tale.
First off all, the event only took place because of two very differing circumstances. The first was the cancelation of the National indoor championship which had been scheduled for this weekend.
It wasn’t just the national championship that fell victim to Covid-19 but the whole indoor athletics season. Indoor sport being one of the coronavirus favourite targets; having wiped out the basketball season, handball has watched their sport disappear in front of them.
Around 350 athletes took part in the 2020 version of the Irish indoor championship, an absolute no no in covid-19 reality.
Now, the athletics blazers had a problem, the European Championship are on the horizon in Torun, Poland from March 5-7.
There was one option which a number of athlete’s took, go abroad to a country allowing indoor sport, France being a popular option. However that was unfair on the athletes who could not leave the country to compete.
So along comes the invite only “micro elite meet” competitions with tongue twister names are usually the best!
Close to 65 athletes invited to this meet, a first piece of competition in 2021 in fact probably since last summer for the majority and a last chance to put a big Q beside their name for a place at Euro 2021.
”At least they’re giving them a chance” joked the cynics on the side-lines, a good effort and bang!”
One Irish senior record, four under-23 records and four junior records over both days with 20 athletes achieving European qualifying marks.
What happened there? The odds were stacked against all these athlete’s on Friday night! There hadn’t been a race in Ireland since last October.
The Carrick-on-Shannon hurdler Ger O’Donnell told Shannonside how difficult it had been to even get access to a track for training.
Yet four months of just training seems to have built a body of work that needed to explode on the track and explode it certainly did.
Mark English held the Irish indoor 800 metre for seven years. Not only did he better it on Saturday afternoon, Cian McPhillips did also.
While Nadia Power had headline writers active late on Wednesday night as she clocked a new Irish women’s indoor 800 metre record, just 0.99 of a second off moving Irish women’s distance running below the magic international specialist two minute mark.
Yet on Sunday Georgie Hartigan and Louise Shanahan were just 1.33 seconds off that two minute mark. Iseult O’Donnell just 2.3 seconds off it also.
The question must now be asked, how has this gone so right?
Just total training from athlete’s stuck in isolation? Just the elite nature of the races? New shoe technology?
Just total training is against the coaching rule book. Like a footballer who trains for months and months, it still takes three or four games just to bring that sharpness back.
Meticulous planning for athlete’s across the world aiming to peak for the major championship be it indoors in March or Olympic Games in July.
The slow early season results! “But I’m happy with that” as their engine slowly speeds up or should speed up for that championship race!
Something was different this time around! Records fell, athletes hadn’t ran! Or maybe coaches got it right, one chance one shot! Personal best!
Was it the nature of the event? Elite sport only is what some blazers are after. The league of Ireland under-17 league, purely the best soccer players only, no talent; need not apply.
As a one off the athletics folk were stuck to this option. There was no slow coach, slowing it down from mid-pack. There was no mistake from Mark English in that 800 metre race, no long way round because the guy in front of him was taking too long.
It was flat out, balls out, foot on the accelerator running.
Was it the footwear, shoe technology is starting to have the impact that F1 experienced in the 90’s or that golf has wrestled with to prevent longest drive records being totally laughed at.
While the analysis can now begin, covid-19’s small positive legacy on sport may just have written another chapter.
What if? 2022 everyone is vaccinated, all is good in the World. The Irish championships take place two weeks earlier and there’s one more “Micro Elite” meet to run.
It might just be worth a shot.