O'Connor strikes golden double at NI & Ulster Senior Championships
Kate O’Connor was the only one of the 12 athletes expected to represent Northern Ireland at next month’s Commonwealth Games who turned up to the NI & Ulster Senior Championships at the Mary Peters Track on Saturday. Another seven-hour programme made it a long and, at times, excruciating for athletes, officials and spectators.
O’Connor, a Dundalk woman, who qualifies for Northern Ireland through parentage, made her journey worthwhile with a victory in the long jump (5.93m) before switching her attention to the track where she claimed her second gold medal of the day in the 100m hurdles with a personal best 13.96 seconds.
Teenage running sensation Nick Griggs dropped down to the 800m where he was given a lesson in tactics by Trim AC’s Harry Purcell. The former Villanova University student dominated a slow-run race, 63 seconds at the bell, before taking control with a furlong to run.
Meanwhile, Griggs had got himself boxed in and, although showing a splendid turn of speed on the finishing straight after extracting himself, was never going to outsprint an athlete with a personal best of 47.09 seconds for 400m and 1:46.41 for 800m. Purcell’s winning time was a modest 1:55.49 while Mid Ulster athlete’s 1:55.67 was personal best but not representative of his potential over the two-lap distance.
However, the outing should provide valuable racing experience for the 17-year-old in advance of the World Junior Championship this August in Cali, Colombia where finishing speed will be an obvious requisite to grabbing a podium spot.
Another young athlete who could be Cali-bound is Oliver Swinney who gunned down a useful field to take the men’s 100m title in a 10.48 seconds (+1.4), just one-hundredth outside his best set earlier this season. It completed a rare double for the 18-year-old Speed Development Project athlete who seven days earlier had taken the Irish Schools title over the same distance.
Derry Track Club’s Jason Smyth was third behind Swinney in 10.66 seconds, showing he is solidly on course for what could be a record fifth Paralympics appearance in Paris next year.
Other competitors on the track who caught the eye were Donegal man Oisín Gallen who finished strongly to outdo Neil Johnston in the 5000m (14:34.19) while Emma Mitchell was equally convincing in the equivalent women’s event (17:10.54). Kelly McGrory continued the fine tradition of Tirchonnaill AC in the women’s 400m hurdles, winning in an impressive 57.84 seconds, only a second or so slower than the winner of the flat 400m Rachel McCann (56.70).
Australian visitor Zane Branco added quality to the men’s field events with a best effort of 7.59m in the long jump albeit with the assistance of a 4.29 m/s tailwind.