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Lanigan-O'Keeffe begins bid to reach third Olympics imbued by training stint in Kenya

‘I came back from Kenya and ran 35 seconds faster than I’ve ever run for a 5k,’ said the Kilkenny man, whose season begins in Cairo today.

Arthur Lanigan-O'Keeffe.
Arthur Lanigan-O'Keeffe.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

IRISH PENTATHLETE ARTHUR Lanigan-O’Keeffe will begin his bid to qualify for a third Olympic Games in the knowledge that he has never been better prepared physically following an intensive altitude training camp in Iten, Kenya.

The 28-year-old Kilkenny man is in Egypt this week for the UIPM 2020 Pentathlon World Cup Cairo, which begins today (Wednesday).

As Olympic season begins, so too does Lanigan-O’Keeffe’s campaign to book a seat on the plane to Tokyo 2020.

Natalya Coyle secured a quota place for Ireland by finishing eighth at the 2019 European Championships in Bath, affording her the opportunity to adjust her winter training with the aim of peaking just once this term — in August. But for Lanigan-O’Keeffe (as well as compatriot Sive Brassil), high-level performance throughout the season will be a prerequisite for participation at the big show in six months’ time.

natalya-coyle-and-arthur-lanigan-okeeffe-with-john-ledingham Natalya Coyle, Lanigan-O'Keeffe and John Ledingham, now the riding coach for Pentathlon Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

And so, for Lanigan-O’Keeffe, it was to the mountains of Kenya for something a bit different.

“I’m a big sports fan, especially athletics, and I’ve read a lot of sports books about running with Kenyans and I’m friends with a lot of Irish runners who go out there, and my running coach Steve Macklin has been going out there for the last couple of years,” he said.

“It was always something I wanted to do but never something my timetable allowed. This year, recovering from a lacklustre 2019 full of injuries, I felt I needed a slightly different approach.

“It turned out to be a really good decision. I got a big block of training done — much more than I’ve ever done in my life in terms of running — and I was healthy the whole way through.”

arthur-lanigan-okeeffe Lanigan-O'Keeffe was an Olympian in 2012 and 2016. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Lanigan-O’Keeffe finished eighth in the Rio 2016 Olympics. A year prior, he was individual European champion, and in 2018 he claimed gold at UIPM Pentathlon World Cup Sofia. He has also won numerous Mixed Relay titles alongside fellow Olympian Coyle.

But in the mountains of East Africa, he accrued an altogether new type of experience, of which he immediately noticed the benefits on his return to Ireland before heading back to the African continent.

“It was an amazing experience. And obviously, the agenda was not to get better at swimming or fencing anything — it was to get fit again with a big block of training and be ready and robust for the season to come because it’s going to be a crazy one.

“I also had a physical therapist travel out with me, Evan Scully, who has worked with Olympic champions, and he knew everyone in Kenya. And that meant I got a real insight into what life is like out there.

I came back from Kenya and ran 35 seconds faster than I’ve ever run for a 5k, and all my testing was far superior to anything I’ve done in my life. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, and that is proved by the results of the physiology tests, which I’ve been doing since 2011.

“I would do that trip every year from now on if I was to continue with Pentathlon. It was something special, a really magical place.”

The Cairo competition begins today with the women’s qualification, followed by the men’s qualification. All going well, Ireland will have an interest in all three finals: the women on Friday, the men on Saturday and the Mixed Relay on Sunday.

Lanigan-O’Keeffe scaled Kenyan heights in preparation and he believes things are on the up for the Irish team, adding: “I’ve been so grateful for the support team we’ve had in recent years, and we’ve got a really good team behind us for this World Cup season. We’re going to have a physio with us for the first time since the Europeans in 2015 and the Olympic Games.

“You always see the other athletes getting a rub down before the Laser Run, so it will be nice to have the same preparation as them.”

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