Ireland’s athletes in Athletics, Gymnastics, Diving and Rowing, in particular, have had a spectacular period of success in recent weeks and they are hoping to carry that through to a new form of European Championships that promises to raise their profile substantially.
Seven individual sports International governing bodies have come together to share facilities, services, timetabling and most especially media services at the beginning of next month.
It’s not an Olympic Games but it will feel very much like one with RTE bringing extensive coverage from the Athletics taking place in Berlin and the other six sports – Gymnastics, Swimming, Triathlon, Cycling, Rowing and Golf in Glasgow.
The very fact of coming together and working with the European Broadcasting Union to deliver widespread coverage gives the games a sense of scale and importance that might otherwise have been difficult to secure seven times over.
Ireland will be sending a team of as many as 100 athletes across six of the seven sports and we will travel with strong hopes given the recent successes that Irish performers have achieved on European, World and Junior stages.
“This is a real opportunity to expand the awareness that the Irish public has of the great achievements being made by Irish athletes,” said Sport Ireland High-Performance Director Paul McDermott speaking to Sport for Business yesterday at the Sport Ireland National Sports Campus.
“We are two years out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and this gathering of sports will push sports that otherwise have to really struggle for recognition into a brighter spotlight.”
It is always challenging to secure positive coverage, especially in a summer dominated by the GAA Championships and this year by the World Cup but you have to keep on trying.
The advances in visibility brought about by streaming and broadcast technology mean it is easier than ever to watch performances like from the recent European U18 and World U20 Championships where Irish athletes shone.
Breaking into a national conversation still relies on mass media engagement though and that is why the RTÉ broadcasts will be so important.
This model of Championship is new and it will have some challenges no doubt but if that momentum can be maintained of providing strong content for our public service broadcasters, then the oxygen of publicity will continue to shine and bring the wider breadth of sport to the attention it craves and will justify in a country where sporting achievement is always well recognised.
Here is a taste of what we might hope for across the different sports…
Jon Rudd outlined that there would be twelve swimmers and three divers heading to Scotland. In terms of targets Swim Ireland is aiming at 50 per cent achieving lifetime bests in the competition and 65 per cent to hit a season-best as well.
Qualification was undertaken in competition format for the first time earlier this year and gearing up to peak at the most important time is an important part of the high-performance structures which Rudd has been putting in place.
Thomas Barr and Phil Healy were both present having put in strong performances at Monday night’s Cork City Sports and both will be hoping to do so again in Berlin. There could be as many as 30 Irish athletes travelling over with the Morton Games this Thursday and the Irish Life National Championships the following weekend serving as top class preparation for these Championships.
The successful 4 x 100-metre relay team who won silver at the World U20 Championships will compete at the London Diamond League this weekend in a bid to qualify as well as add to their growing experience.
Double Gold winning European U18 Champion Sarah Healy will race at the Morton Games but will hold back from stepping up to this level of senior competition in Berlin.
With three disciplines of track, road and mountain biking coming together Cycling Ireland will be sending a strong team. Kelly Murphy, who has just declared for Ireland will compete in the green vest for the first time, while double Tour de France stage winner Dan Martin is on a provisional list for the road race.
Sixty-five per cent of the start line at the Rio and London Olympics triathlon events came from Europe so competition will be strong.
The elite teams competing in the Men’s and Women’s events will also be supplemented by a first entry in the Relay event on Sunday while an additional 69 athletes will travel over in green to compete in the Age Grade Championships that are a unique part of triathlon just below the highest level of competition.
Another strong team with World Cup winner Rhys McClenaghan, Adam Steele and Andrew Smith competing in the Men’s events and Meghan Smith taking part in her first major international tournament.
All four are among a core group of athletes based now at the National Indoor Arena where the sport is building a real momentum.
A Junior Women’s squad will also travel to Glasgow. All have competed together as part of an Olympic Start programme since they were seven years old and this will be another valuable step along the way.
Gary and Paul O’Donovan have committed already to compete, fresh from their World Cup lightweight triumph in Switzerland at the weekend.