Darragh McElhinney and Robert McDonnell were the standout performers of a large cohort of Irish athletes in Belgium on Saturday, with both athletes breaking long standing national U23 records. The pair were taking part in the IFAM Oordegem meeting, rated a Challenger event on the World Athletics Continental Tour. Traditionally well supported by the Irish, the event attracted high quality fields again this year across the programme, with many seeking to secure European Championship qualifying times.
There were a number of big performance from the travelling Irish throughout the day, with McDonnell (Galway City Harriers) producing yet another blistering run this season, clocking 20.51 to break the 10 year-old Irish U23 record of 20.57, previously held by Steven Colvert of Crusaders. The time also sees McDonnell go to 4th on the Irish All-time list. The 19 year-old Galway man also registered an impressive 10.43 over 100m on the day, equalling his time set at the IMC meeting in Belfast, two weeks ago.
UCD’s McElhinney had to wait until late into the Belgian evening before he got the chance to continue rampaging through the Irish U23 record books. The meeting in Oordegem was also where McElhinney broke the Irish Junior 5000m record in 2019 (13:54.10). Having already laid claim to both the 3000m and 1500m indoor records earlier this year, McElhinney produced a gutsy display in Belgium once again to come home in a new U23 record time of 13:17.17.
The previous record of 13:26.5, which was held by John Treacy, had stood for 44 years and had also been set in Belgium. The Cork man’s time sees him take a huge jump from 82nd to 7th in the Irish All-Time list in what is also an automatic European Championship qualifying standard. McElhinney was made to dig extremely deep in the final 400m having done a large portion of the work to drag the chasing pack back to the leaders in the closing stages of the race.
A little further back, Hiko Tonosa (DSD A.C) came home in 13:26.02, while across the other heats, Abdel Laadjel (Donore Harriers) was just 10 seconds outside the Irish junior 5000m record in an impressive 14:04.77. In-form Kilkenny City Harriers man Eoin Everard was best of the Masters athletes on the day, running just outside his personal best to cross the line in 14:00.23.
There were significant personal bests also for Sophie Becker (Raheny Shamrock) and Jack Raftery (Donore Harriers) in the 400m. Becker dipped under the 52 second barrier for the first time in her career by running 51.83, taking a huge chunk off the 52.24 set in Belfast just two weeks ago. A strong run off the final bend by Becker saw her also set the second quickest time of the meeting. In the same event, Sharlene Mawdsley (Mullingar Harriers) returned to action, opening her outdoor season in 52.27. Both Mawdsley and Becker were also part of the Irish 4x400m team that ran 3:37.65 later in the day.
National U23 Champion Raftery continued his sterling start to 2022 with a win in his 400m heat in a personal best time of 46.17. That also sees the Donore Harriers man move to 10th on the All-Time list. In fine form on the comeback from injury, the 21 year-old will be looking to add the national senior title to his U23 crown next month and will be one of the hot favourites to do-so.
Leevale athlete Lucy Sleeman bagged personal bests in both the 100m (11.68) and 200m (24.04) in Belgium on her way to securing qualifying standards for the World Junior Championships in Cali, Columbia at the beginning of August.
Mark English (Finn Valley A.C) made a winning return to racing in the men’s 800m. A worthwhile outing for the Donegal man coming home in 1:46.61. Coming off the back of a sensational 2021 season which saw him break both the indoor and outdoor 800m records, English will hope to replicate the success of last year as he gears up for a world and European Championships in the coming months.
Full results of all races and comprehensive lists of all Irish finishers across the day can be found here.