Sergiu`s Rio dream trampled down

As all will be fully aware our club mate Sergiu Ciobanu was overlooked by Athletics Ireland/Olympic Council of Ireland in the selection of the men`s marathon team for this year`s Olympic Games. With Sergiu quiet rightly appealing the decision it was inappropriate to comment at that time. Sergiu`s Appeal was of course (and some might say no surprise there) disallowed.

The general conscious within Clonliffe Harriers remains one of extreme disappointment and disbelief and of great sympathy for Sergiu. Rather than commenting any further this web site can do no more than publish in full Billy Keane`s article from today`s Irish Independent. It is for others to decide what is fair, equitable and just:

Clock never lies but Ciobanu misses Rio with a faster time


Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Sergiu Ciobanu after running a road race in Holycross last Thursday. Photo credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE1
Sergiu Ciobanu after running a road race in Holycross last Thursday. Photo credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

Sergiu Ciobanu, born in Moldova, and now a Tipp man, is our third fastest Olympic marathon runner.

But Athletics Ireland have selected Kevin Seaward, Mick Clohessy and Paul Pollock as their three for the Rio marathon.

Paul Pollock had a slower time than Sergiu. The Tipp man was heartbroken and he overreacted. “I feel if I was born in Nenagh or Killarney, then I would be in that team,” he said on the cusp of his hurt.

We spoke with Sergiu after he ran a road race in Holycross on Thursday night last.

“I have always been well treated in Ireland in athletics, and outside of athletics. I was very angry. The words came out too fast. I never felt like this in Ireland. Irish people are so respectful.”

And then his voice trails off somewhere into the pain he feels deep inside.

Sergiu’s coach Jerry Kiernan claims Athletics Ireland “kept changing the goalposts”. You have to take heed when Kiernan lets rip. He was ninth in the LA marathon when John Treacy won silver.

I suppose I had better declare a friendship. I lived a couple of hundred yards up the back lane from Kiernan’s house. We won Munster Schools gold for St Michael’s College on the same day, a long time ago.

We got to talking about the case of another near neighbour Eugene Moriarty. Eugene cycled in his 19th Rás last week and he is still competitive. He was fifth in the world amateur championship and so qualified a second Irish cyclist for the Olympic Games, but, incredibly, he was not selected.

Sergiu’s story is an emigrant’s story. He worked for years in a meat plant in Ireland. The young man was on his feet all day but he still ran and ran. Like many of our own, he found it hard to get the money together to go back home to see his family. His dream was to get a stake together in Ireland and when he returned after two years, his then wife had found someone else.

Sergiu was visiting his daughter in Moldova when the bad news came through from Athletics Ireland. Catalina consoled her dad and dried up his tears.

Sergiu is married to Eimear, an Irish girl. They run the thriving Premier Physiotherapy practice in Clonmel and Sergiu, who had hardly a word of English when he came here 11 years ago, has qualified as a physical therapist. The couple are expecting and Eimear, who is one sound woman, backs her husband all the way.

Kevin Ancrom, the CEO of Athletics Ireland, in an interview with the excellent Irish Runner stated: “To prepare for the Olympic Games, we asked athletes to compete early in the qualification period and run an early marathon.”

The AI guidelines state as follows: “Priority 1: April/May and September/November 2015.The two 2015 performance windows designated give athletes the best opportunity to secure an entry standard, and as well, allow enough time for athletes to recover and put in a full preparation period to improve performance prior to the Olympic Games.”

Going by the official guidelines, the optimum window for qualification was last autumn.

Sergiu ran Berlin, along with all of the Irish Olympic hopefuls in September. Sergiu beat the Rio qualification time handily enough. He finished second of the Irish contingent.

Says Sergiu: “It’s not about me. Young athletes who run the best times, how do they know they will be picked to represent our country?” Kiernan contends the only true test was in Berlin. “All the Irish runners ran there. It was a fast, fair track,” he says.

Mick Clohessy, who finished behind Ciobanu in Berlin, beat the Tipp man’s time in February in Seville. Clohessy is a popular stalwart, our national champion. His time was posted on a flat, quiet course on a fine day.

It was not like for like, such as is the case on the track, where the surfaces are synthetic and much of a much.

The Irish system is not the norm. The British and US marathon teams were picked from the first three home in their national championships. Their athletes know what is expected of them.

Paul Pollock, a fine athlete, was 21st in a World Marathon Championship, even if it was back in 2013. Pollock ran an excellent half- marathon just a few months ago. A half is not a full, and is a completely different test. Pollock has not run a marathon since Berlin. He was injured for London in April but there were other events open to him in May before the team was selected.

Ciobanu, though, has been ranked either one or two in Ireland over the past five years.

Kiernan says there is very little between the athletes: “All of these men have put years of their lives trying to get to an Olympic Games. They run 120 miles a week and train twice a day. Any three of the top four could have been picked.”

Ciobanu’s problem is not so much with the athletes but with the process. “The uncertainty of the rules means there is now big pressure on the athletes. They are good people. Great guys. They take time off work. They are not funded.”

Ciobanu was told by a highly-placed person in Irish athletics that his place was assured when it became known Pollock was not going to run in London.

Ciobanu had an entry for Prague and had Pollock beaten his time this spring, well then he would have had another cut. But when the team was announced Prague had come and gone. It was also open to Pollock to run in Seville and Prague but, for some reason, he stuck and did not twist.

It seems Ciobanu was not intentionally misled by the highly-placed person. The fastest three were picked for the women’s marathon. The Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) ratified their decision.

The OCI ratified the men’s team yesterday, two days after giving the imprimatur to the women’s team. This is the classic case of two wrongs making a wrong.

The selection of an athlete who has an inferior time should only be made in exceptional circumstances such as, for example, when an Olympic champion is denied the right to defend his or her title due to injury. This isn’t football. The clock doesn’t lie.

And Sergiu Ciobanu has been denied the right to wear the green shirt of Ireland at the Rio Olympic Games of 2016.

Irish Independent (4th June 2016)