THE annual exodus of Irish athletes to Belgium and England began last Saturday when a large contingent converged on Oordegem, Belgium in search of top class competition.
For most, the trip was well worth the effort with a string of new PBs.
After setting a new 1,500m record at the Irish Life Health Munster Schools Championships a week earlier, Darragh McElhinney from Bantry was full of confidence for his 5,000m race in Oordegem, a small town between Ghent and Brussels, and put in the performance of his life when he finished second in a time of 13:54.10.
That time is just under eighteen seconds better than his previous best of 14:11.80 achieved at the same meet a year ago.
The time is also a new Irish junior record, taking eight seconds off Kevin Mulcaire’s time of 14:02.30 in 2015.
Two years ago, McElhinney broke John Treacy’s Irish youths 3,000m record that stood for 44 years, and he also set a new Irish junior indoor 5,000m record earlier this year.
His time is the fastest by a junior in Europe so far this year and puts him in line for a medal at the European junior championships taking place in Boras, Sweden in mid-July.
Mark Carroll of Leevale won the European junior 5,000m title in 1991.
Before that, he races over 1,500m at the Irish Life health All-Ireland schools championships in Tullamore on Saturday where he could race Cian McPhillips from Longford who broke Ciaran Ó Lionáird’s Irish youths indoor 1,500m record in February with a time of 3:46.42.
That could well be the most intriguing event of the championships.
Also in Oordegem, Conor Morey of Leevale won his 100m race in a time of 10.73, a new legal PB for him, while clubmate Colin Doyle was second in his 100m in 11.11.
Morey also finished third in another 100m race in 10.76 and was on the winning Irish junior team that won the 4X100m relay the following day.
The team‘s time of 40.70 is inside the qualifying standard for the European junior championships.
Scott Gibson from Bandon was sixth in his 400m in 48.69, a welcome return to competition after a couple of years of injury problems.
Diarmuid Clancy from Abbey striders was third in his 400m hurdles in 55.42 and has started a GoFundMe page seeking financial assistance to help with training/racing.
There was a new PB for Liam Harris of Togher in the 3,000m steeplechase when he finished ninth in 9:09.65 just days after returning from Providence College where he is on scholarship.
Clubmate Evan Byrne was ninth in his 5,000m in 14:13.68 for a new PB.
In the field events, Shane Howard from Bandon won the long jump with 7.38m with Daniel Hurley from Leevale eight with 6.46m.
Ciaran Dee of Leevale was fourth in his 400m in 51.14.
In her first year at Adams State on an athletic scholarship, Stephanie Cotter from West Muskerry won the American Division 2 one mile indoor national collegiate title in March.
Last weekend she added another gold when she dominated the 1,500m at the outdoor national championships in Kingsville, Texas to win in a time of 4:36.91.
With three years to go at Adams State, she could end up with a big collection of gold medals.
Not so fortunate was Sam Healy of Leevale and University of Louisiana who was competing at the America East qualifier for the national championships in Jacksonville, Florida.
He fouled his first two jumps and could only manage 7.24m with his third and final jump.
Also out of luck was Fearghal Curtin from Youghal and Arizona State who finished ninth in his heat of the 5,000m at the America West qualifier in Sacramento, California in 14:14.15.
Another athlete returning to competition was Dean Cronin from Blarney Inniscarra. He finished eighth in the 800m in 1:50.44 at a meet in Marietta, Georgia.
This was his first competition since he raced over two weekends in January over 600m and 1,000m.