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'I feel like if I was born in Ireland I would have been selected for Rio'

Sergiu Ciobanu was not picked for the Irish men’s marathon team for the Olympics despite running the third fastest time.

Ciobanu wins the Samsung Night Run in 2014.
Ciobanu wins the Samsung Night Run in 2014.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

A MOLDOVAN-BORN Irish marathon runner claims that not being born in this country is the reason he was not selected for the 2016 Olympic Games despite clocking the third fastest time during the qualification window.

Sergiu Ciobanu, who moved to Ireland more than 10 years ago, was overlooked in favour of Paul Pollock when the Irish team was announced yesterday despite finishing six places and 24 seconds ahead of the Annadale Striders runner in Berlin last September.

“I feel like the fact I was born in Moldova is what cost me my place,” Cionbanu told The42 this morning. 

“If you look at the team selection, (Athletics Ireland) picked the three fastest women and they didn’t pick the three fastest men.

“I feel like if I was born in Ireland, in the sticks, I would have been selected.

The Clonliffe Harriers athlete says the whole thing feels like a nightmare at the moment but that he doesn’t blame Pollock or the other runners selected, instead he claims the fault lies with Athletics Ireland.

“I’m still in a bad dream. I just can’t believe it, I’m just so confused. I’ve been travelling for the last few days as I was in the Netherlands for a half-marathon.

“I’ve been trying to prove my fitness for the last while, I was in Morrocco for a month with Rob Heffernan doing warm weather altitude training and I’ve come back to Europe to run a few races.

“It’s not a time for a marathon runner hoping to do well in Rio to be peaking. I’m just running to prove I’m healthy and injury free and I’ve a full summer ahead to train for Rio.

“But what happened yesterday, I’m really disappointed. I’d heard rumours this might happen — even before the London marathon — and you think to yourself they’re just rumours but, in the end, it happened.

“It’s not about Pollock, it’s not about the three guys that were picked. It’s about me and other athletes being misled as to the qualifying criteria. It’s just really bad what happened.”

Paul Pollock Paul Pollock who was controversially selected ahead of Ciobanu Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The three-man team picked by a panel of five selectors and ratified by the Olympic Council of Ireland contains Pollock, Mick Clohisey and Kevin Seaward.

At September’s event in Berlin — in which all four of the athletes raced Ciobanu was the second Irishman across the line, finishing 24th behind Seaward (2:14:52) in a time of 2:15:14.

Mick Clohisey was 29th that day running 2:15:35, but later surpassed Ciobanu’s time with a 2:15:11 run in Seville in February this year while Pollock finished 30th in Germany in 2:15:38.

Ciobanu says he is struggling to understand how this decision could have been taken.

“I trusted our federation and now I just think I was so naive.

I never thought things like this could happen with Athletics Ireland. I’m only ten years in Ireland so maybe I don’t know everything that goes on and, for me coming from Moldova, honestly, I’d expect something like this there, but not in Ireland.

“I was second fastest in Berlin, I achieved the qualifying time. Paul’s performance at the world half marathon seems to be why he was selected. If (Athletics Ireland) made it clear that you could be selected for that reason, then it would save athletes going off and running marathons at this time of year.

“Running marathons is not easy, it impacts your performances two or three months ahead. Look, it’s not Paul’s fault, I’m just gutted with our federation.

Ciobanu also says that a lack of communication from Athletics Ireland has left him confused.

“They call themselves ‘high-performance’ but look, it’s not high-performance. I tried to get in touch with (high performance director) Kevin Akron three times in January and I never heard back from him. Back then I was still the second fastest qualifier and I still heard nothing.”

Ciobanu’s coach Jerry Kiernan told the Irish Independent that the decision was “fucking bullshit” and when the 34-year-old explains all he has given up in preparation for the Olympics over the past couple of years, it’s easy to understand why emotions are running so high.

“I had to get a crowd-funding campaign going to fund my training in Portugal and Morocco and I’ve been away running most of this year and that costs a lot of money. Even before I ran the qualifying time in Berlin I was away twice altitude training in Romania and all that costs money.

“At the same time I was not working and, if I’d just staying in my clinic in Clonmel — I’m a qualified physiotherapist — I could have been earning money but I just wanted to concentrate on the Olympics.

“I left my pregnant wife at home to travel and train this year, we’re expecting a child in June. We run the clinic together in Clonmel and I left her on her own, with her support, with the clinic but this has cost me.”

The next step for Ciobanu is to put in an appeal that must be submitted by this evening and he remains hopeful he can still secure a place in Rio.

“I’m working on the appeal right now, trying to get it in before the 6pm deadline. I’m still optimistic they might change their mind but it’s hard to know what will happen.

“I don’t want to give up athletics because that’s what I love. I coach an athletics club at home and it’s something that I love but it’s hard to stay in love with a sport when this happens.”

The42 has attempted to contact Athletics Ireland for comment.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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