World Class Athletics Returning to AIT in February
World class athletics will return to Athlone Institute of Technology again this coming February 13th with the sixth edition of the AIT International Grand Prix. The event has in the past five years attracted the cream of world athletics. The 2019 event will be no different with some big names to be announced soon. Irish interest will be piqued as Thomas Barr is ready to defend the 400m title he claimed in 2018 and Irishwomen of the moment, Phil Healy and Sarah Healy, will be seeking to hit the qualifying standards for the European Indoors 400m and 1500m events respectively.
The first big headliner for the inaugural event in 2014 was the now retired Ashton Eaton, the World & Olympic Champion at the time. Six stadium records were broken as big time athletics came to Athlone IT for the first time since the opening of the AIT International Arena. This event put the AIT GP on the map internationally as word spread inside the international athletics community that AIT had a ‘fast track’.
Three international stars, namely, Mutaz Essa Barshim, Carmelita Jeter and Asafa Powell made their presence felt in 2015. Powell unfortunately picked up an injury in warm-up and was forced out of the competition. Barshim ultimately stole the limelight as he broke the Asian indoor record with a jump of 2.41m. He then had three valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempts at 2.44m which would have broken the world record of 2.43m set by Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor in 1989. If the AIT International GP was not already a world renowned event before 2015 then Barshim ensured that it was globally recognised.
Big headliners were recruited again in 2016 and the novel addition of the Pole Vault event attracted world class competitors. Canadian world champion Shawn Barber battled it out with American Sam Kendricks before achieving ultimate success with a best jump of 5.77m to smash the stadium record. Barbers compatriot, and world silver medallist, Melissa Bishop didn’t disappoint the fans as she won the 800m race in a time of 2.00.60. The best however was kept for last as Ethiopian Dawit Wolde dominated the men’s mile as he also broke the Ethiopian indoor 1500m record when posting 3.37.86. This time was also a world lead.
The women’s 60m hurdles has been a staple annual discipline on the AIT GP programme and this was no different in 2017 as former Olympic Champion Sally Pearson opted to come to Ireland to relaunch her career after injury. Pearson showed all her class & technique but only came third as Christina Manning ran a stadium and all comer’s record of 7.82. Pearson, however, progressed to the World Outdoor Championships in London where she claimed Gold. Pearson in fact named the AIT GP as her launch pad for her successful season.
In 2018 two Irishmen outshone the best of the Worlds Pole Vaulters. The blue riband AIT Mile event never ceases to lift the crowd as the ultimate event. Quite possibly there has never been a more popular third place finisher at an indoor meet in Ireland. While Ryan Gregson comfortably won the race in 3.57.86 it was former AIT scholarship student John Travers made Irish athletics history by becoming the first Irish man to run a sub 4-minute mile indoor on home soil (3.59.40). The gracious Australian winner Gregson allowed Travers to take the limelight and applause of the crowd post-race. Grzeforz Kalinowski of Poland was the other man to run sub 4 minutes when he clocked 3.59.19.
Irish headliner Thomas Barr thrilled the home crowd with a come from behind victory in the final 40m of a brilliant Ericsson 400m men’s race. Barr was the only athlete to dip under the 47-second barrier which was an amazing time for a 400m hurdles specialist. Barr was fulsome in his praise of the ecstatic sell-out crowd who he credited with helping him overtake Ricardo Dos-Santos of Portugal in the home straight.
The Bank of Ireland men’s pole vault proved to be a scintillating event. Then World champion Sam Kendricks and former champion Shawn Barber had a big battle which was ultimately won by Kendricks. The winning vault was a massive 5.70m. Kendricks had three valiant attempts at 5.80m which would have been an all-comers and stadium record in the AIT International Arena.
The only guarantee that the organisers of the 2019 AIT International Grand Prix can give is that the event will as always be spectacular. A host of big names will be announced in the coming weeks and this will be a great opportunity for sports fans to witness world class athletics in this amazing midland venue.
Tickets Available: www.aitsport.ie/ait-grand-prix-2019/