22 JUL 2008 General News Dublin, Ireland

Ireland selects team of 16 for Beijing

David Gillick breasts the tape in the men's 400m in Birmingham (Getty Images)David Gillick breasts the tape in the men's 400m in Birmingham (Getty Images) © Copyright

Reigning European Indoor 400 metres champion David Gillick and Eileen O'Keeffe, who finished sixth in the hammer at last year's World Championships, are two of eight first-time Olympians selected in the Irish athletics team for Beijing.

The Olympic Council of Ireland's decision, on Monday (21), to accept Athletics Ireland's nominations of three athletes with the Olympic 'B' standard has bumped the team number up to 16.

400m hurdler Michelle Carey, 800m specialist Thomas Chamney and marathon runner Pauline Curley all received word of their selection on Sunday night, following the Irish National Track & Field Championships - although Curley was not even in the country.

The 39-year-old Offaly woman is currently on holiday in Torremolinos in Spain with her husband Adrian and young son Emmet, and got the shock of her life when learning of her call-up.

"When I got the text message from Patsy (McGonagle, the Irish team manager), I felt as if every drop of blood drained from my body," admitted Curley, who ran 2 hours, 39.05 seconds in the Rotherdam marathon in April for a personal best and the 'B' standard.

"It was so unexpected and when I got the follow-up call I had to ask if they were winding me up?

"Being picked for the Olympics is really the most wonderful feeling, particularly at this stage of my career.

"I'm thrilled. It will be a childhood dream fulfilled for me to run at the Games," added the part-time chef, who will be the first Irish woman to run the Olympic marathon since Marie Rollins-Murphy and Ailish Smith did so in Seoul in 1988.

London stop before Beijing

The Irish team's departure for a pre-Beijing holding camp begins on Friday week, but before that, David Gillick, Paul Hession, Alistair Cragg and Roisin McGettigan will compete at the Aviva London Grand Prix - IAAF World Athletics Tour.

A knee injury prevented Gillick from defending his Irish title over the weekend but he has been given the all-clear to run in London next Saturday.

"I just had a niggle in my right knee and that's why I didn't run over the weekend, I just wanted to be cautious about it," the Dubliner explained. "I'm quite confident that everything is okay and it hasn't inhibited me much in training or races recently."

The 25-year-old clocked 45.12 seconds in Villeneuve-d'Ascq last month for a new Irish record and is looking forward to the tough competition in London.

"It's a very good meet over there, an excellent standard. It's great to see that there is a good Irish contingent heading over."

Irish 100m and 200m champion Paul Hession ran the fastest ever 100m on Irish soil (10.21 seconds) at the Cork City Sports event earlier this month and is back to his consistent best.

"I'm running in the 200 in London on Saturday, against the 100m world record holder Usain Bolt, (Wallace) Spearman and Rodney Martin. That will be a good way of finding out where I'm at.”

"Things are going well for me. I'm enjoying training and the races are going to plan. It's all guns blazing for Beijing," enthused the Galway man.

Recovered from a hip injury, Kilkenny's Eileen O'Keeffe claimed her eighth successive Irish Hammer Throw title last Saturday (19) with a throw of 72.75 metres.

“My throws at the Nationals were all over 70 metres, so hopefully I can reproduce this form out in China. It's going to be a busy few weeks so I'll just keep the head down and keep working hard," added the 27-year-old.

O'Keeffe will compete against 2000 Olympic champion Kamila Skolimowska and current World champion Betty Heidler at the Morton Memorial meeting in Santry this Friday (25).

Cragg, O'Rourke, Heffernan...

Other Irish athletes hoping to shine in Beijing are middle distance star Alistair Cragg, who had good outings in Cork and Paris recently, 100m hurdler Derval O'Rourke and race walker Robert Heffernan, who finished sixth in the 20km event at last year's World Championships and lowered the Irish 10km walk record in Santry last weekend.

There is one injury doubt surrounding the Irish camp at the moment - that concerns 400m hope Joanne Cuddihy.

The Kilkenny youngster's preparations have been hit by a calf strain but she is hopeful of being fit in time for her debut Olympics.

The appearance of Waterford race walker Jamie Costin in an Irish team again is most heartening to see, given that he was involved in a car crash, nine days before his event at the 2004 Games in Athens.

The accident saw him break his back in two places but thanks to his bravery, will to succeed and the some excellent medical attention, he is back and ready for another Olympic challenge.

Dave Mervyn for the IAAF

IRELAND ATHLETICS TEAM - XXIX OLYMPIC GAMES:

Fionnuala Britton (3000 metres steeplechase) Michelle Carey (400 metres hurdles) Thomas Chamney (800 metres) Jamie Costin (20 kilometre walk) Pauline Curley (marathon) Alistair Cragg (1500 metres/5000 metres/10000 metres) Martin Fagan (marathon) David Gillick (400 metres) Colin Griffin (50 kilometre walk) Robert Heffernan (20 kilometre walk) Paul Hession (100 metres/200 metres) Joanne Cuddihy (400 metres) Olive Loughnane (20 kilometre walk) Roisin McGettigan (3000 metres steeplechase) Eileen O'Keeffe (hammer) Derval O'Rourke (100 metres hurdles)