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Irish athletics: Your guide to the next generation

Irish athletes have had numerous successes in underage competition in the past few years, leading...

Irish athletics: Your guide to...
Best of OTB

Irish athletics: Your guide to the next generation

Irish athletes have had numerous successes in underage competition in the past few years, leading to a lot of excitement in the future of athletics here - especially in sprinting.

Only a few years ago, sprinting was irrelevant to casual fans of Irish sport outside of Usain Bolt, but the shot to stardom by the likes of Thomas Barr and Phil Healy - as well as underage successes - have ignited intrigue and public support for one of their own to do well.

With the European U23, U20 and Youth Olympiads all taking place in the next few weeks, here are a few athletes with big chances of bringing home medals for Ireland.

Sarah Healy

Sarah Healy was undoubtedly the star of age-grade athletics in Ireland last season.

She claimed a double gold medal in the 1500m and the 3000m at the European U18 Championships, but she also finished as the fastest in Europe in the 1500m not only at U18 level, but at U20 level too.

Her 1500m time last year also made her the fastest U18 in the world, while only 3 U20s ran faster than her.

She also held the EU18L over 800m last year, despite not competing in that distance at the European Championships.

Make no mistake about it, Sarah Healy is world class at this level and she was so even before she started competing at the U20 grade.

This season, she continued her dominance at schools level and while she hasn’t reached her times of last year yet, she is well poised to match them judging by her times so far.

She has also raced against the former 1500m World Champion Genzebe Dibaba just this week, finishing 5th in that 2000m race in Hungary – her first real taste of top-class action.

She is in good form heading into these championships, and very much the woman to beat.

Gina Akpe-Moses

Gina Akpe-Moses is a name that would be quite familiar even to the most causal Irish athletics fan.

The 20-year-old made her name at the European U20 Championships 2 years ago where she won gold in the 100m.

She followed that up by qualifying for the final of the 100m at the World Junior Championships in Finland last year against a top-class field, while also being part of the 4x100m relay side that just lost out on gold by centimetres in Tampere.

Akpe-Moses continues to improve this season as she ran a lifetime best of 11.45 in Belgium last month, as she aims to get closer to that 11.15 standard for Tokyo 2020.

With it being her first year at this level it is a lot to ask of her to be able to bring home a medal, but with the high standard to which she holds hersefl, she is definitely in with a shout.

Davicia Patterson

Davicia Patterson became the fifth-fastest Irish woman over 400m last month – at the age of just 18.

She achieved the feat in Geneva, running a lifetime best of 52.57 – 0.3s quicker than her previous best achieved in 2018.

Looking to progress even further over a lap, Patterson first caught the eye in running for a semi-final place at the World Junior Championships in 2018.

Polina Miller (Russian, running as an Authorised Neutral Athlete) has the measure over the competition with a season-best of under 52 seconds so far, but Davicia Patterson will be well within the mix for a silver medal, while also waiting to capitalise on a sub-par performance from Miller.

Darragh McElhinney

Stepping away from sprinting for a moment, to arguably one of if not the in-form athlete in Europe at the U20 age grade at the moment.

Darragh McElhinney (Bantry AC) is not only the the EU20L in the men’s 5000m, but he is also the only man in Europe to run below 14 minutes*.

His time of 13mins 54.10secs achieved in Belgium in May, was seventeen seconds faster than his previous best which he achieved in the same meeting in 2018.

The run was a real statement of intent from McElhinney, who has also posted PBs in the 800m, 1500m and the 3000m in 2019.

McElhinney will be going into the European U20 Championships as a gold medal contender.

*Disclaimer: Jakob Ingebrigtsen doesn’t count as he is not competing in these championships.

Aaron Sexton

If there is anything you do this month, watch Aaron Sexton; because we won’t see him on a track again after the U20 Championships.

The sprinting star will hang up his spikes in favour of a move into professional rugby, as he will go full-time with the Ulster Academy this Summer.

It is a move that was expected, but at least we will still get to see the fastest man over 200m in Europe at this grade in 2019 have one more crack at it.

An Irish man has never won a medal over this distance in the European U20 Championships, but Aaron Sexton will aim to leave a big legacy from his short athletics career.

Sommer Lecky

As well as the exploits of the 4x100m relay team last year at the World Junior Championships, high-jumper Sommer Lecky brought home a silver medal of her own from Tampere.

She finished in second place after a phenomenal 1.90m clearance, an achievement which earned her the Athletics Ireland U20 Athlete of the Year.

The 19-year-old holds a season-best of 1.84 in the outdoor season, but she does have a 1.86 clearance from the indoor season earlier this year.

Although last year’s gold medal winner is now over-age for this grade, Lecky does face a big battle for the gold medal this year.

Ukraine starlet Yaroslava Mahuchikh has cleared 2 metres already this season, and is very much the world-class attraction of this event. However, a PB for Lecky and a below-par performance from Mahuchikh will see the Finn Valley Athletics Club member well in the hunt for the medals.

Rhasidat Adeleke

A year after the success of Akpe-Moses in the 100m at the European U20 championships, Rhasidat Adeleke claimed a gold medal of her own in the U18s last year.

Now, she will be aiming to double down on that achievement at the European Youth Olympiad towards the end of this month.

It is hard to know what her chances are at the current moment, as the big star of the U18 grade this season, Britain’s Amy Hunt, has been selected to compete in the U20 Championships.

It is unknown whether Hunt, who is second to Dina Asher-Smith as the fastest woman over 200m in Europe at any level in 2019, will double up on the events, but it is unlikely.

She may double up and run in the 100m as well, where she is currently running very close to her personal best and among the Top five U18s in Europe.

By Andrew Louth

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