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New arena revitalises indoor championships

The Woodie’s DIY National Senior Indoor Championships are set for a major facelift this weekend in Athlone with some of Ireland’s top class athletes set to compete alongside the country’s leading club athletes.

The championships had gone somewhat stale in the last couple of years in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast but the new arena in Athlone Institute of Technology, officially opened by Enda Kenny yesterday, has breathed new life into the indoor season with fast times being recorded to date attracting Ireland’s best athletes to compete. 

Robert Heffernan, Derval O’Rourke, Fionnuala Britton and Brian Gregan are all set to star in what should provide the perfect backdrop as they look to sharpen their speed for bigger challenges ahead. 

While you wouldn’t normally associate speed with race walking, Heffernan (Togher AC), fourth in the 50km walk in the Olympics, will be looking to record a fast time over 5,000m as he targets a historic 15th national indoor title. 

There are no international indoor competitions for race walking but Heffernan will use this as a speed exercise and his national record of 18:51.46 will be on his mind as he promises “an exhibition of world class walking” in his bid to get on to the medal rostrum at the World Championships in Moscow in August. 

“Basic speed has a direct impact on the longer distances,” said Heffernan. “It is a test of power and speed and I’ll be at my absolute limit. Everything is geared towards Moscow and I won’t be going there to make up the numbers.” 

The best athletes generally use the national championships as a training exercise and don’t always compete in their best distance. Britton (Kilcoole AC) and Gregan (Clonliffe Harriers) will drop down in distance and will run over 1500m and 200m respectively. 

This is Britton’s first proper indoor season and she is using it in an attempt to break into the African hierarchy at the World Cross Country Championships in Poland on March 24. The World Cross starts at a searing pace and running indoors is a key stepping stone in getting to the next level. She will be an underdog in the 1500m, with Claire Tarplee of DSD the favourite, but she will be looking to medal and run a new personal best, which currently stands at 4:23. 

Gregan (Clonliffe Harriers) is another athlete on the cusp of making an international breakthrough as he sits on top of the European rankings over 400m with 46.07 seconds and is undefeated this season indoors, with Jonathan Borlee and Olympic silver medallist Luguelin Santos amongst his most notable scalps. He could be challenged by emerging schoolboy talent Marcus Lawler of St Laurence O’Toole in the 200m. 

O’Rourke (Leevale AC) has fallen out of the spotlight somewhat having not medalled at a major championship since 2010 and is eager to make amends in Gothenburg. The Irish record holder will make it 12 national titles on Sunday barring disaster but of more pertinence will be to go under eight seconds — the benchmark for world class hurdling over the 60m indoors distance. 

The championships will be broadcast in an hour-long highlights package on RTÉ 2 on Monday at 8pm.

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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

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