Meanwhile, in Rotterdam…

Runners crossing the spectacular Erasmus bridge during the Rotterdam Marathon.

While all of Ireland will no doubt be following my Paris Marathon run this Sunday, let’s not forget some other Irish marathon competitors this weekend. The Rotterdam Marathon is the race, and Olympic qualification their not-insignificant goal.

Each country can send a maximum of three women and three men to the respective Olympic marathons in London this summer. With a little luck and no headwind in the Lowlands on Sunday morning, Ireland could have a full team for each race – and maybe even a selection conundrum.

So far, just one Irish athlete has beaten the men’s A-standard of 2 hours 15 minutes – Mark Kenneally, who ran 2:13:55 in Amsterdam last year. Hoping for a similar result on flat Dutch streets this Sunday are Sean Connolly (who missed the A-standard in Dublin last October), Gary Thornton, Gary O’Hanlon and Thomas Frazer. Sergiu Ciobanu, the Clonliffe Harriers clubman and former winner of the Cork City Marathon, will also be in Rotterdam hoping to qualify and represent his native Moldova at the Olympics.

Three Irish women have already qualified for London – Linda Byrne in last October’s Dublin Marathon, Ava Hutchinson in Houston earlier this year, and Maria McCambridge in Rome a few weeks ago. But this isn’t stopping more Irish women from having a go at beating the women’s A-standard of 2 hours 37 minutes. Caitriona Jennings, Lizzie Lee, Gladys Ganiel and Breege Connolly will be running in Rotterdam on Sunday, aiming for Olympic qualification too.

What happens if more than three Irish runners qualify for the Olympic men’s or women’s marathon? Ireland doesn’t hold Olympic trials, but Athletics Ireland have published the criteria for selection. They include factors such as consistency of performance, high-level competitive results, statistical data and something called ‘Final Phase Readiness’ which implies that the athlete must be fit and performing well in the period leading up to the Games.

This throws up a few questions. Does this mean that runners should be aiming to beat the A-standard more than once, so that they demonstrate consistent performance? Is one certified city marathon more selection-friendly than another in terms of its élite field and conditions? The Rotterdam course is apparently quite flat compared to Boston and its famous Heartbreak Hill. Dublin in October usually has cooler weather but more wind than many European spring marathons. There may be less top-quality runners in Brighton than in Paris. And this month’s London marathon is in London, just like the London Olympics – does that count for anything?

Spare a thought for Kenya’s marathon runners, though. Ian O’Riordan in the Irish Times reports a Kenyan newspaper claiming in March that 278 men and 61 women there had already made the Olympic A-standard – and that’s before the spring marathon season in Europe. Now, 278 into 3 won’t go – try selecting from that! You get the impression that a little old Olympic trial around the streets of Nairobi wouldn’t bother them in the slightest.

Good luck to all our Irish runners in Rotterdam on Sunday. I’d be thinking of you that morning but I’ll be busy with my own marathon running. And apologies in advance if I edge any of my Irish marathon brothers out of an Olympic qualifying place.

UPDATE 2: Jennings, Byrne and Hutchinson selected for the Olympic team but McCambridge misses out. Read on..

UPDATE: Catriona Jennings ran an Olympic qualifying time in Rotterdam but the other Irish competitors suffered near misses. Find out more…

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