Inside Track: Ulster runners make up half of Ireland's Rio marathon team
ULSTER distance running must be at its highest point ever with three northern athletes included in the six named to represent Ireland in the marathon at the Rio Olympics this August.
The women’s race is scheduled for August 14 with the men’s medals decided seven days later.
Kevin Seaward of St Malachy’s and Annadale Strider Paul Pollock are named along with Raheny Shamrock Mick Clohisey in the men’s trio to represent Ireland, while North Belfast Harrier Breege Connolly joins Leevale’s Lizzie Lee and Wicklow woman Fionnuala McCormack in the women’s line-up.
For good measure, another North Belfast Harrier, Gladys Ganiel O’Neill, is named as first reserve for the women’s team in the event anyone gets sick or injured before July 11, which is the last date for a substitution.
The selection of Loughborough-based teacher Seaward was almost a formality with the 30-year-old north Belfast native heading the men’s rankings since he ran 2:14:52 in Berlin last September.
Similarly, Dubliner Clohisey was a shoo-in after finishing third Irish man in Berlin and well inside the 2:17 standard with a 2:15:35 mark. He improved that to 2:15:11 in Seville in February to leap-frog Clonliffe Harrier Sergiu Ciobanu into the second fastest spot.
Controversially for some, Pollock was given the third slot, although again many would argue he was the first choice despite being fourth on time, given his outstanding 14th in the World Half-Marathon Championship earlier this year.
Breege Connolly played a canny hand in gaining the third berth for the women’s marathon. The Leitrim native ran 2:37:29 in London last year and has not been panicked into tackling another 26.2 race although being overhauled in the rankings by both Lizzie Lee and Fionnuala McCormack.
Donegal man Gary Murray will join Seaward and Pollock for the European Half-Marathon Championships meaning Ulster athletes make up half of the team.
Add to that the selection of Brendan Boyce for the Olympic 50Km Walk and it has not been a bad week for northern runners and walkers.