Donegal athletes on a learning mission in Moscow

Pole vaulter Tori Pena.

Pole vaulter Tori Pena.


THE manager of the Irish Athletics team at the World Championships in Moscow, Patsy McGonagle, has said that the championships provide a tremendous opportunity for some of the country’s young athletes to experience competition at the highest level – and to learn from that.


Three Donegal athletes – Mark English, Brendan Boyce and Tori Pena are included in the 11-strong Irish team, while former Letterkenny AC athlete Maria McCambridge now with Dundrum South Dublin AC is also in the squad.

“This is really year one on the cycle in terms of preparation for Rio and is an opportunity for a lot of these young athletes to learn and develop,” said McGonagle who was speaking to the Donegal News from his base in Moscow.

The Finn Valley stalwart said that Ireland’s best opportunity for a medal at the games would come from walker Robert Heffernan who finished 4th in the Olympics in London last year.

“He is in good form and if he brings that form with him he is our best opportunity for a medal, but we are in Russia and they are a really dominant force in world walking so we will have to wait and see.”

For the rest of the team McGonagle says it really is a fantastic opportunity to get a taste of what this level of competition is all about and to learn from it.

“In reality if a lot of them get to progress through a round then it will be tremendous progress for them, but as I say it’s only the first leg in a process of development towards the Olympics in Rio.”

Following his phenomenal A-standard performance in London recently Mark English, could however be an Irish surprise package when he takes the line in Moscow in the men’s 800m for his first major senior international competition.


The 20 year-old from Letterkenny ran a magnificent 1:44.84 minutes A-Standard performance when finishing sixth at the recent London Anniversary Games, fractionally missing out on David Matthews long-standing National Record and becoming the second fastest Irish man of all time in the event.

Milford man Brendan Boyce who competed in the 50km Walk at last year’s Olympic Games and finished a respectable 29th place will be hoping Robert Heffernan isn’t the only Irish walker to do well at the games.

Boyce placed 15th in the World University Games in 2011, so is no stranger to major global competition and will look to make his mark on the world stage following a series of personal bests in four different race-walking distances this season.

Ireland’s lone field event athlete selected for the World Championships is Finn Valley AC’s Pole Vaulter, Tori Pena. Pena is the current National Record holder in the event, having cleared an impressive 4.60m in California this June, demonstrating the kind of form she’s in leading into the championships.

Pena won’t be shaken by the prospect of a World Championships, having competed at the 2011 World Championships as well as two European Indoor Championships and two European Outdoor Championships. With six of her top ten vaults ever coming this season and her 4.60m clearance ranking her 15th in the IAAF World Rankings for 2013, Pena will have her eyes on qualifying for a spot in a major final – something that has eluded her in her career to date.

Maria McCambridge who is married to Letterkenny AC’s Gary Crossan is one of the longest serving Irish Internationals, having competed in her first World Championships in 2001 and she will line up in the Women’s Marathon for Ireland some 12 years later at the age of 38.

McCambridge set her Marathon personal best last October with a 2:35:28 performance and recently took the opportunity to fine-tune her marathon preparation by winning the 5,000m in a sub-16 performance at the National Championships

The strong Donegal links to the Irish squad is pleasing to team manager McGonagle and something he maintains should be a huge boost to athletics coaches across the county.

He said: “What we are doing in Donegal is throwing a lot of young athletes into the ring and there is a lot of talent in the county. But it takes ten years or more of hard work to get to this level. For a lot of kids their first taste comes at the Primary School Athletics at Finn Valley, if they get a taste for it they’ll often join up with a club and there is great work being done by the coaches across Donegal.

“What I’ve found though is that a lot of the very good young athletes are also good boxers or footballers or whatever and it is then down to choices. To get to an elite level you have to put a lot of effort in and it is great to see Donegal so well represented at the very highest level in world athletics.”


Saturday August 10th
8.20am (Irish time)    Mark English, men’s 800m heats
11am (Irish time)        Maria McCambridge, women’s marathon

Sunday August 11th
4.10pm (Irish time)    Tori Pena, women’s pole vault qualification

Wednesday August 14th
5.30am (Irish time)    Brendan Boyce, men’s 50k walk

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