Special Monthly Feature: Local runners set for Rio Olympic Games 2016…


Special Monthly Feature:  Our (Northern Ireland) Olympic heroes are ready for Rio!

In the early hours of tomorrow morning, Saturday 13th August 2016, Ciara Mageean will be the first of five runners from Northern Ireland who represent Team Ireland at the most prestigious sport event in the world, the Olympic Games.

This year, staged in Rio, Brazil, the event has attracted massive attention and the excitement within the local sporting community is evident as we look forward to seeing familiar faces from our roads and tracks take on the world’s best and ultimately, make their own sport dreams come true.

We therefore felt it fitting that we mark Day 1 of the athletics programme at the Rio Olympics 2016 with this Monthly Feature, which will focus entirely on runners from Northern Ireland.   It must be noted that as well as our own resources, this feature was compiled by using information from various sources, including Athletics Ireland, Athletics NI and www.42.ie

Before we start… GOOD LUCK to everyone representing TEAM IRELAND at the Rio Olympics from the NiRunning Team.

Ciara Mageean

Club:  UCD AC

Event:  1500m

Personal best:  4:06.49

Coach:  Jerry Kiernan

When does she race? Ciara will kick off her Olympic campaign at 00:30hrs (GMT) on Saturday 13th August 2016 (Round 1 of 1500m).  Should Ciara progress, the next rounds will be on Monday 15th August 2016 at 01:30hrs (GMT) and Wednesday 17th August 2016 at 02:20hrs.

Where’s she from? The 24-year-old hails from Portaferry, County Down. She also comes from good sporting stock as her father Chris played inter-county hurling for the Ardsmen.

Interesting Info:  Ciara announced herself as a hot prospect for the future when she won a silver medal over 1500m at the World Junior Athletics Championships in Moncton, Canada in 2010 but injury has curtailed her full development.  However, the physiotherapy graduate has shown flashes of brilliance – most recently, Ciara claimed a bronze medal at the European Athletics Championships in Holland.  She has made her intentions very clear going into the Rio Olympics, telling RTE “I aim to be in the final. I’ll be disappointed if I’m not there. Once I’m there I’m going to my damnedest to do my best for Ireland.”

This high expectation is not unreasonable as it follows her best ever track season culminating in the aforementioned European bronze medal, a first for Northern Ireland.  In the past twelve months, Ciara has also set Northern Ireland records over 800m and 1500m, as well as the Mile (which was also an Irish record).

Kerry O’Flaherty

Club:  Newcastle AC

Event:  3,000m Steeplechase

Personal best:  9:42.61

Coach:  Richard Rodgers

When does she race?  Kerry will kick off her Olympic quest on Saturday 13th August 2016 at 14:40hrs (GMT).  This will be Round 1 of the 3,000m Steeplechase and should Kerry qualify, she’ll be back on the track at 15:15hrs on Monday 15th August 2016 at 15:15hrs (GMT).

Where’s she from?  Kerry is another of our County Down based athletes, living close to Newcastle, the Northern Ireland and Ireland internationally regularly trains in Castlewellan Country Park and around the scenic Murlough Bay area.

Interesting Info:  Kerry is one of Northern Ireland’s most popular athletes.  Running for Newcastle AC from a young age, she gained experience over every terrain, excelling in the 3,000m Steeplechase over the last few years.  Kerry is the Northern Ireland record holder over the (3,000m Steeplechase) distance and has been part of Irish teams that have medalled at the European Cross Country Championships.  This will be Kerry’s Olympic debut, crowning an excellent couple of years, which also saw her take her first bow at the World Athletics Championships.

Like many of the other Team Ireland athletes, Kerry’s home town has bought into her Olympic dream, with many shops displaying ‘Good Luck Kerry’ posters – one shop has even set up a Steeplechase window display use a well-known brand of hoovers… obviously the green colour version of the hoover led the way!

Breege Connolly

Club:  North Belfast Harriers

Event:  Marathon

Personal best:  2:37:29

Coach:  Martin Deane/Paul Elliot

When does she race?  Breege will take to the ladies marathon start line on Sunday 14th August 2016 at 13:30hrs (GMT).

Where’s he from?  Breege is originally from Leitrim, but currently lives in Belfast and works in Newry.

Interesting Info:  The North Belfast Harriers athlete and Northern Ireland international has come a long way from running purely to make friends and will toe the line in Rio in the marathon by virtue of her excellent run at the London Marathon in the last Olympic year, 2012.  Breege ran her first marathon (Dublin) in 2003, clocking just over the 4-hour mark – it was another nine years, she says, until she ran her first competitive marathon… an inspiring story!

In terms of qualification, some people thought it was a risk for Breege not to follow up her 2:37:29 in 2012 with another marathon – but this proved to be an excellent decision and the down to earth athlete was rewarded with a place on the Team Ireland squad for the Rio.

After the Rio Olympic dream comes to an end (with hopefully an excellent result!), Breege will continue running – she told www.42.ie, “What I most love is the feeling of fitness. You know when you’re on a long run on a Saturday morning? When you get to 20 or 21 miles, it’s just a lovely feeling where you’ve got this kind of lethargy in you but you just know you can keep going. Nothing can really beat that feeling.”

Kevin Seaward

Club:  St Malachy’s AC

Event:  Marathon

Personal best:  2:14:52

Coach:  Andrew Hobdell

When does he race?  Kevin will join fellow Northern Ireland man and training partner Paul Pollock on the men’s marathon start line on Sunday 21st August 2016 at 13:30hrs (GMT).

Where’s he from?  Kevin is a Belfast native, though he currently works as an assistant head teacher in North West Leicestershire (England).

Interesting Info:  Kevin is the fastest Team Ireland marathon qualifier for Rio with his 2:14:52 in the Berlin Marathon back in September 2015; this is his personal best for the distance.  The school teacher finished in 42nd place at the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff in March (2016) with a finishing time of 1:05:23.  This will be Kevin’s first time competing in the Olympics.

A pupil at Kevin’s school is also competing at the Games – Lizzie Warner, who competes in archery, is travelling to Rio as part of the British Olympic Association’s Ambition Programme.  Lizzie is a highly promising athlete, having won a bronze medal at The Commonwealth Youth Games.  Also… Dan McLay, who has caught the eye in this year’s Tour de France, is an alumni of the school.

Paul Pollock

Club:  Annadale Striders

Event:  Marathon

Personal best:  2:15:38

Coach:  Andrew Hobdell

When does he race?  Paul will join fellow Northern Ireland man and training partner Kevin Seaward on the men’s marathon start line on Sunday 21st August 2016 at 13:30hrs (GMT).

Where’s he from?  The 30 year old athlete hails from Holywood, County Down, and counts a certain former world number one golfer as an ex-schoolmate.

Interesting Info:  Multi AAI and NI & Ulster title winning athlete Paul Pollock showed great form at the World Half Marathon Championships in March (2016) with a 14th place finish in 1:02:46. The A&E doctor is a training partner of Kevin Seaward and is based in London.  His brother Noel is the head doctor with UK Athletics.  Paul has always made his desire to break the Northern Ireland marathon record clear, could there be a better time to do it?

Records aside, the humble and hard-working athlete will be looking for another strong showing and lead the team to a good finishing position.  Like all of the local athletes, the opportunity to compete at the world’s most prestigious sporting event  means a lot – After receiving the call from Team Ireland, Paul tweeted “A moment of pain, for a lifetime of happiness.”

NOTE:  For a full preview of the entire Team Ireland squad, please check out the Athletics Ireland website HERE.