ATHLETICS Ireland have sent a team of 32 to compete in the European U20 Championships starting on Monday morning at the Givat Ram Stadium in Jerusalem.
The biennial championships, which continue until Thursday, were first held in 1970 after three editions of the unofficial European Junior Games and this year's event travels to Israel for the first time.
At the 2021 European Athletics U20 Championships in Tallinn, Great Britain topped the medal table for the second successive edition with six gold medals ahead of Germany and Ireland, who both claimed four titles apiece.
One name stands out among the Irish selections that include 18 individual competitors as well as three relay squads.
And that name is Nick Griggs. The Tyrone teenager makes an early start on Monday morning in defence of the 3000m title he won two years ago.
Griggs shocked the opposition, and many more, on that occasion when as a relative unknown, he sprinted away in the final stages of the race to snatch the gold medal.
The Newmills 18-year-old does not have the convenient cloak of anonymity this time and, in addition, he has more formidable opposition than in 2021.
Griggs is top-ranked of the entrants for the event with a 7:53.24 mark from the Belfast Milers’ Meeting in May, but Poland’s Kamil Herzek has also broken eight minutes this year.
However, the biggest threat to a repeat gold for Griggs may come from Norway’s Hakon Moe Berg who has run 8:01.78 although only 17.
The 3000m heats are scheduled for 7:03am Irish time Monday morning with the final to be decided on Wednesday evening.
Five other NI & Ulster athletes have been selected.
Lughaidh Mallon secured the 1500m standard when he set a big personal best of 3:47.45 at the British Milers Meet in Belfast two weeks ago.
The Lagan Valley clubman faces a semi-final on Monday evening and qualification for Wednesday morning’s final would represent success for the Jim McGivern-trained athlete.
Outstanding competitor in this event is Dutch superstar Niels Laros who has run 3:32.89 this season.
Also on the team are Donegal’s Fintan Dewhirst who was the European U18 400m hurdles silver medallist last year; Cavan’s Irish U20 400m hurdles champion Renee Crotty, who will double up in the 4x400m relay after setting a new one-lap best in the past few weeks; Finn Valley’s Hannah Murray is also named in the girls’ 4x400m team after her win in the U19 400m at the national championships. Monaghan Phoenix sprinter Daisy Walker serves the unenviable role of non-travelling reserve in the 4x400m.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Commonwealth Youth Games kick off on Monday with five Northern Ireland athletes making the long trip to Trinidad & Tobago.
Jamie Moffatt (100m), Lucy Foster (1500m) and Frank Buchanan (1500m) all compete in their respective heats on the opening day in the Trinidad Hasely Crawford Stadium.
Toby Thompson (200m) competes on Wednesday while Anna Gardiner (3000m) can look forward to a straight final on Thursday.