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Nadia Power is one of many Irish athletes scaling new heights at the minute.
Nadia Power is one of many Irish athletes scaling new heights at the minute.

'It's headlines, medals, performances, records - and right now, we have that in abundance'

David Gillick on the air of excitement around Irish athletics and his belief that the Olympic Games will go ahead this summer.
Feb 26th 2021, 5:19 PM 10,966 6

DAVID GILLICK HAS hailed the “phenomenal” buzz around Irish athletics at the moment and shared his belief that the Olympic Games will go ahead this summer.

Domestically and internationally, Irish athletes have scaled remarkable heights over the past few weeks, with national records and personal bests falling like dominoes — particularly on the middle-distance scene.

On Wednesday evening, Nadia Power continued her blistering 800m form with a third-place finish at the final World Indoor Tour in Madrid, having recently twice broken the national indoor record. 

Irish women’s 800m running is on another level at the minute, Síofra Cléirigh Buttner reclaiming the record at the American Track League meeting at Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Sunday when she clocked a time of 2:00.58. That’s to name just two in that division, but several others have been flying the flag at new heights with sub-two minutes near for many (Ciara Mageean is the only Irishwoman to have ever broken the mark, and did so outdoors last summer).

Also in Madrid, Sarah Lavin finished third in the 60m hurdles final, securing a PB of 8.14 seconds in the semi-final, before clocking an even faster 8.13 time in the final.

And domestically, just look at the Irish Life Health Elite Micro Meet last weekend.

The men’s 800m where Mark English “rolled back the years” and broke his national indoor record after a stunning finish with 18-year-old Cian McPhillips of Longford AC is one that jumps out to Gillick, the Olympian name-checking all of the above and more.

“All this sort of stuff is just ridiculously amazing. It’s brilliant,” he told The42 yesterday, as attention now turns to the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Torun, Poland, on 5-7 March.

A 24-strong Irish team has been selected, and excitement is certainly building.

“When you consider the last couple of weeks, it’s phenomenal,” Gillick, a double European indoor champion himself, said.

When you look at all the results, the strength and depth, the times that have been run, the national records, PBs; all that is huge confidence for the sport going forward, particularly in an Olympic year. It’s extremely exciting.

“When you can send a team of 24 athletes to a championship and almost have three per every track event, it’s something unheard of: that sort of level of performance, but also the confidence you get when you see people going to meets around the world and not only just competing, they’re challenging, they’re winning, they’re driving races out.

“I think it kind of shows what has been going on in underage Irish Athletics over the last couple of years, there has been a huge shift. We’re not just there to make up the numbers, we’re there to challenge.”

With the mid-week action from Madrid shown on TG4 and Athletics Ireland organising live streams for last weekend’s meet, Gillick can’t stress enough how important that visibility is. 

“Look, it’s all about exposure. TG4 taking that on was fantastic. Obviously we haven’t had a whole lot of athletics on the TV for arguably the last year, internationally and domestically. To see our best athletes week in week out can be very, very difficult.

“Credit to the media, it has been picked up on. It has picked up about the women’s 800m. And even from a women’s sports perspective, we’ve got… athletics, to me, is a very equal sport when it comes to equality and male and female, and it’s great that we have lots of female athletes to celebrate — not only a few, there’s five or six in the women’s 800m, which is fantastic.

I think that visibility is absolutely crucial to the growth of our sport. Athletics has been challenged in Ireland… it’s very difficult, there’s three major sports, and everyone else is then fighting over the scraps. Success breeds success. It’s headlines, it’s medals, it’s performances, it’s records – and right now, we have that in abundance.”

The hope now is that the upward trajectory continues at the European Indoors next weekend, and further afield.

And Gillick is confident it will.

“The great belief going into even Poland is that we have athletes that are very highly-ranked, which is great going into an indoors because lanes and seeding is all very important, but there will be a huge belief there that athletes can challenge.

“We can get on the podium here, and the European Indoors is a great springboard for some of these young athletes’ careers. I went through it myself. It launched me, it gave me huge belief to go on and compete at world level.

david-gillick Gillick at the launch of the new Olympic Federation of Ireland campaign, ‘Don’t Scroll By’. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“For some of our younger athletes who were making a breakthrough from junior to senior, it’s a huge, huge, inviting championship to get involved in. Also, for medals, because that’s what it’s all about. If you get medals, it can give you an element of funding and Sport Ireland support and all this sort of stuff, and massive confidence going forward.”

“Let’s hope they go to Poland and get more records,” he adds. “But also, that they’re getting those really, really crucial Olympic qualification points that gets them higher up the rankings.

It’s all great, it’s all brilliant but I know a lot of those athletes, their hopes and their dreams are all pinned around Tokyo and Olympic Games. The level of competitiveness right now is giving them a huge, huge incentive to qualify. They’re now higher up, they want to continue, they want that growth.”

Turning to the Olympics, the Dubliner is  “very hopeful” right now that the Games will proceed.

Uncertainty has reigned over the past few weeks and months, with concerns the Tokyo Olympics may not go ahead again this year given the Covid-19 situation in many countries.

A recent poll found 80% of people in Japan want the games cancelled or postponed, as several parts of the country remain under a virus state of emergency.

But the International Olympic Committee [IOC] remain optimistic. As does Gillick.

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“The IOC, a lot of their comments around the Games taking place, are very positive. I do believe the Olympic Games will go ahead. I also think that all the athletes are very much focused on it going ahead, and that’s the right attitude to have right now.

“When you look down the line in terms of how it will unfold, it is a little bit uncertain. Will spectators be there? Probably not. Will media be there? We don’t know. I hope so, I’m due to go.

But in terms of the athletics and all sports, all I want to see is the full allotment of athletes competing. I would hate to get to May and June and then they suddenly say, ‘Okay, we’re restricting the amount of athletes that are going to compete.’ That’s not what we want. We want all our athletes to go.”

Talk of vaccinating athletes has been floated, and Gillick moves to give his thoughts on that.

“That’s a conversation to have in May or June time. Nobody – from an Olympic point of view, or even athletes – are looking at saying that athletes should be put ahead of frontline workers or vulnerable people. No. Absolutely not. We’re all aware that there’s vulnerable people in society that should be vaccinated before people potentially going to Olympic Games.

“But that conversation should take place three months down the line when it’s really relevant and we know where we stand. Right now, I think it will go ahead. I think there’s a lot of belief it will go ahead, and obviously, they’re preparing for that through the roadmap they brought out a week or so ago.

“At the end of the day, we’re completely and utterly living through uncharted waters. Right now, I I feel as if we’re beginning to grab a hold of Covid-19 but you just don’t know what’s going to happen. 

“I think we all need it to go ahead, to be honest. We need that kind of lift. The Olympics is such a great event. It’s the pinnacle of sport. Fingers crossed, there’s no unforeseen things that are gonna pop up over the next couple of months.”

***

David Gillick was speaking at the launch of the new Olympic Federation of Ireland campaign, ‘Don’t Scroll By’.

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