Paul Pollock selection for Rio Olympics sparks controversy

Malcolm McCausland

HOLYWOOD man Paul Pollock’s selection for the marathon at the Rio Olympics this summer has caused a stir in the south.

The marathon teams were announced earlier this week with the two fastest Irishmen on paper, Kevin Seaward and Mick Clohisey, being named. But it was fourth-fastest Pollock’s inclusion at the expense of third-ranked Sergiu Ciobanu that has caused consternation.

It is not that Athletics Ireland did not clearly lay down their selection policy from the outset. At no point in time did the national governing body state that the three fastest would be on the plane to Brazil, although this was the case in the women’s team.

In fact condition 2.5 of the guidelines made it very clear that this would not be the case: “If more than three athletes have achieved the Entry Standard for the marathon event (e.g. four women) other factors (but not limited to) that may be considered by the selection panel for the marathon nominations.”

Although 29-year-old Pollock was fourth on times, his 14th in the World Half Marathon in Cardiff two months ago was the best performance by an Irish distance runner on the global stage for some years. It is only rivalled by his 21st at the World Championships Marathon in a hot and humid Moscow three years ago.

Ciobanu beat Pollock by 24 seconds in Berlin last September when both ran their qualifying times for Rio but the former Moldovan was 36 places behind Pollock in Cardiff and almost four minutes in arrears.

Ciobanu’s coach and RTE athletics expert Jerry Kiernan was the first to speak out blasting Pollock’s selection as “f*****g bull***.”

Dublin-based Kiernan, who many feel brings as much to athletics punditry as his fellow Kerry man Pat Spillane does to gaelic football, went on to denigrate Pollock’s half marathon performance as not being relevant to his marathon potential.

“Picking a marathon team on the basis of a half-marathon makes absolutely no sense,” Kiernan told the southern press.

“It’s like picking someone who has run a 400m on an 800m team.”

Apart from obviously not knowing that an 800m runner’s potential is limited by his 400m speed, Kiernan went on to say: “Sergiu is intrinsically a marathon runner. He stays on his feet and gets home. I do not believe he’s only the fourth-best marathon runner in the country.”

Thirty-two-year-old Ciobanu, who came to this country 10 years ago and received his Irish citizenship relatively recently, reacted to his omission.

“I feel robbed,” he said. “I feel that if I was born in Nenagh or Killarney then I would be in that team. I’m very disappointed, and I’m sure this decision won’t give hope to many athletes who tried their best.”

Athletics Ireland refuted any discrimination on their part, confirming Ciobanu’s omission had nothing to do with him being born in Moldova.

They pointed out that the selections had been made by an independent panel of five comprising Eamon Harvey, Patsy McGonagle, Paul McNamara, Jim Aughney and Brid Golden, with Athletics Ireland HP Director Kevin Ankram as chair.

“We categorically and completely reject any inference that an athlete’s background was in any way a factor in the decision. The selection process and criteria has been in place since 2015 and communicated to all and has not been changed,” read the Athletics Ireland statement.

Athletics Ireland also confirmed that they have received Ciobanu’s appeal against his non-selection. A three-person appeal panel will consider the appeal with the outcome known today.

Meanwhile, local athletics followers are celebrating the inclusion of three northern runners in the marathon selections – Seaward and Pollock in the men’s and Breege Connolly in the women’s, with Connolly’s North Belfast Harriers’ club-mate Gladys Ganiel listed as first reserve. Donegal man Brendan Boyce is also a confirmed selection in the 50Km walk.



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