Athletics

Jason Smyth in line-up for Belfast Irish Milers' Meeting

Jason Smyth will compete at the Belfast Milers' Meeting next week
Malcolm McCausland

MEETING director Eamonn Christie received a timely boost this week with five-time Paralympics gold medallist Jason Smyth being added to the line-up for the Belfast Irish Milers’ Meeting on June 24.

Smyth had a busy day last weekend when he took runner-up spot in the 100m at the NI & Ulster Championships.

As well as running the heat and final of the 100m, he also ran and won his heat of the 200m, although discretion being the greater part of valour he decided not to contest the final.

“That’s the first time I’ve been able to run three races in a day for more than 10 years, but I didn’t want to risk a fourth,” said Smyth who turns 30 next month.

“I feel fitter this season than I have done for a long time and I finally seem to have overcome a back injury that has held me back in training and racing for maybe five years.”

Apart from Leon Reid, who beat him on Saturday, Smyth has a new rival for the national 100m championship in Dublin next month when the Derry Track Club athlete will be going for a hat-trick of victories in the event.

Last weekend, 22-year-old Marcus Lawler became the third-fastest Irishman ever over 100m when he ran 10.30 in Regensburg, Germany. That the fastest time by an Irish sprinter since Smyth’s 10.22 clocking six years ago and slower obviously than Paul Hession’s national record of 10.18.

Eamonn Christie has been happy to accede to Smyth’s request to have two 100-metre races on the programme as he feels faster times will come in a second effort over the distance.

Leading local sprinters Dean Adams and Aaron Sexton should also be involved.

The addition of a top class 100m comes as a relief to Christie, who has had to pull the plug on the women’s 5,000m, which was to have been an assault on the Commonwealth Games consideration standard of 15:39 by Emma Mitchell.

The Banbridge woman has been included in the Irish team that does battle in the European Athletics Team Competition that weekend and will not now be available.

A 3,000m women’s race has now been added to the programme.

“The 5,000 metres is a disappointment but there’s more than enough talent in the other races to make for an interesting afternoon’s athletics,” said Christie who also pointed out that snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan will a guest at the meeting.

OLYMPIC 400m hurdles fourth placer Thomas Barr leads the squad selected by Athletics Ireland to contest the European Athletics Team Championships First League in the Finnish university town of Vaasa on June 23-25.

The competition sees 12 nations looking to gain one of the three promotion spots to the European Team Championships Super League in 2019.

Thomas Barr finished third in Geneva over the 400m hurdles in 49.39 seconds, just outside the world standard of 49.35. Another member of the team, Brian Gregan, claimed his got his second 400m win in a week with a new season’s best of 45.75 at the same meeting.

The squad contains 12 Ulster athletes, but not European 1500m bronze medallist Ciara Mageean who is giving the fixture a miss as she prepares for the World Athletics Championships in London this August.

There is no place either for sprinter Leon Reid whose switch on allegiance from Great Britain to Ireland has been put on hold by IAAF freeze on transfers imposed back in March at the edict of Lord Coe. European medallist both indoors and out, Mark English, should be a big point scorer in the 800m as well as boosting the 4x400m relay squad. The Letterkenny man opened his season in Boston two weeks ago with a 1:46.02 which he improved to 1:46.02 last weekend in Hengelo – 1:45.90 is the ‘London’mark.

Ben Reynolds (110m hurdles), Adam McMullen (Long Jump), Dempsey McGuigan (Hammer), Christian Robinson (4x100m relay) and Andrew Mellon (4x400m) are all fairly safe selections in their respective events.

Speed queen Amy Foster returns from Australia to take the 100m spot as well as being a key member of the women’s 4 x 100m relay squad. Emma Mitchell is recognised following NI records over both 5,000m and 10,000m with selection for the 3,000m while the versatile Ann-Marie McGlynn is included at 5,000m.

Kerry O’Flaherty will hope to have recovered from a niggling calf injury to take her place in the 3,000m steeplechase, while Christine McMahon was a safe selection for the 400m hurdles.

Teenage high jump star Sommer Lecky completes an impressive northern contingent and should score heavily in her event.

“While in recent editions we have fared very well on the track, we have the potential to make a real impact in the jumps and throws this year,” said Athletics Ireland HPD Paul McNamara.

“Youth is a strong characteristic of this year’s squad, with a significant number of juniors and U23s earning their selection across the spectrum of events.”

BELFAST middle-distance runner Orla Smyth is one of 200-plus athletes named to represent Great Britain at the World Transplant Games in Malaga from June 25 – July 2. The former corporate lawyer turned café owner is set to take part in the 400m, 800m and 1500m as well as the 4x400m relay.

Athletics was not Orla’s first love. Instead she played soccer for Northern Ireland at U16 and U17 level before switching to Gaelic football when she was studying at Queen’s University.

That was when a kidney problem, diagnosed initially at 11 years of age, deteriorated into something more serious and necessitated a kidney transplant at 24.

Unfortunately, Orla’s body rejected the replacement organ after three months meaning that she was on dialysis for three-and-a-half years before undergoing a second transplant.

“I was anxious to resume sport and, with football ruled out, I started walking then running. I got the bug, starting with a 10K and then a half-marathon,” explained Orla.

“If I’m 100 per cent honest, I wish I had discovered running when I was young and healthy.”

This will be the 38-year-old’s third World Transplant Games.

On her first appearance, she took three gold medals in Sweden but this paled in comparison with the seven she won in Durban two years later. Due to work commitments at Kaffe O, she was unable to go to Argentina WTG in 2015 and is now looking to make up for lost time.

“I know it’s a championships and I shouldn’t be looking to set records but I already hold the world records in my two best events, the 400m and the 800m, and I would like to regain the 1500m mark,” confessed the City of Lisburn athlete.

Away from the track, Orla serves on the committee for Transplant Sport NI which not only supports transplanted athletes but also promotes the benefits of organ donation.

(For further information please see www.organdonation.nhs.uk and www.transplantsportni.org)

“At end of day I wouldn’t be talking about any of the above if it wasn’t for my two donors,” she concluded.

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