Honorary President's Address
1998-99 and Three Years On
The 1998-99 IUAA Championships
I look back on the events of the last year with much joy. My highlights and memories of the past year were:
· The winning of the Women's Road Relay Championship in NUI Maynooth by Dublin Institute of Technology to become the first non-university club to win one of the major IUAA championships
· UCC again won the Men's Road Relay Championship
· Four new IUAA Indoor Track and Field Records set in Nenagh Olympic Stadium at the IUAA Indoors Track and Field
· UL won both the Men's and the Women's Indoor Track and Field Championships
· The return of the Cross Country Championships to NUI Galway and the winning of the Men's Individual Cross Country Championship by a NUI Galway athlete, Paul McNamara, for the first time in many years, perhaps reviving the glory days in the 1970's of the UCG Men's teams
· UCC Men again dominated the Men's Cross Country Championship with UCD taking the Women's title and the overall title
· The introduction of the new scoring system for the overall Cross Country title
· Eight new IUAA Outdoor Track and Field Records at the Mary Peters Track in Belfast
· UL won the Men's and UCD the Women's Outdoors Track and Field Championships with UCD taking the overall title
· The incorporation of the Multi-Event Championships into the Outdoor Track and Field Championships for the first time as an trial
None of these championships happen without the efforts of the host colleges/universities. I thank NUI Maynooth for continuing to host the Road Relay Championships with their limited resources, NUI Galway for hosting the Cross Country Championships at Dangan in Galway City, and The Queen's University of Belfast for hosting the Outdoors Track and Field Championships at the Mary Peter's Track in Belfast. The social functions after the Cross Country Championships in Galway and the Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Belfast were enjoyed by all the athletes. Thank are due also to the officials and helpers without whom these events would simply not take place. In particular, I would like to thank the small band of TCD athletes who over the past two years have been the mainstay of heats/results production at the Indoor Championships in Nenagh and who have answered my request as Hon. President of D.U.H.A.C. to help in running these championships. The athletes and officials from other clubs who helped with the field events in particular are also acknowledged. It is clear that the running of the Indoors Track and Field needs the help and assistance of all IUAA clubs if they are to continue to be organised, as you the athletes would wish.
The past season marked the end of an era as far as starting IUAA championships is concerned. Professor Cyril M. White had performed this task virtually single-handed for many years, but felt he had to give up that responsibility for health reasons and his own self respect as a starter when he felt he no longer had the concentration and edge that a good starter needs. I was only able to take on this task at the Indoor Championships in the knowledge and confidence that a band of hard working individuals were doing other tasks I had previously done.
The Indoor Track and Field Championships did suffer one major shortcoming, namely, the lack of electronic timing. This was a most unfortunate occurrence occasioned by several of us thinking that someone else was organising this aspect of the championships. The IUAA wishes to assure its members that this will not happen in the future. On the question of rescheduling events, the Indoor Championship timetable and programme did not specifically state in the case of some events for which heats were not required, when the final would be run. As a result of this, some athletes were inconvenienced with respect to doubling in the 1500m final and 800 m final. This omission was my responsibility and this will be corrected for subsequent championships to avoid such problems.
There were also some minor problems in Belfast at the Outdoor Championships. Because of the six-lane track at Mary Peter's, the subject of guesting and the qualification for finals had been the subject of much discussion at the Captains' meeting in Galway after the Cross Country Championships where important decisions were made. While there were statements about guests in the programme perhaps these were not as prominently stated as they could have been for the benefit of those Clubs who had not been in Galway at the Cross Country. This section of the programme was written by me for QUB A.C. and I apologise for the ill feeling this caused in some quarters when IUAA athletes were "deprived" of a place in a final by guests. On the subject of withdrawal of athletes from events, IUAA championships run under current IAAF rules, with any exceptions notified to Members/Associate Members. Nobody in the IUAA is trying to obstruct individuals or clubs or their officials. All of us must accept that athletes themselves have a responsibility to be aware of the rules of championships and that officials can only try as far as possible to ensure that athletes are aware of the consequences of withdrawing from competition once an event has started. However, the primary obligation is on the athletes and their clubs in this matter. Nonetheless, I believe that a few simple statements in track and field championship programmes might prevent such unfortunate and embarrassing occurrences in the future.
The Home International Scene
The annual international track and field meeting in Antrim against Scottish Universities and the Northern Ireland U.23s provided an enthralling competition for all the participants with the weather not being the kindest. The competition started off in dry but cool conditions and finished with the Men's 4-x 400 m relay in a downpour. Ian O'Sullivan (UCC) and Juliet Claffey (UL) provided inspiring captaincies. The third and final year of my presidency of the IUAA finished on the highest of notes with the IUAA taking the overall title for the first time at the seventh attempt. My sincere thanks to every athlete who competed for the IUAA in Antrim in June. If ever teams of IUAA men and women gave the fullest of support to each other, it was on that evening. Unfortunately, this event will also be remembered because we were not able to retire to the usual hotel afterwards to have a social evening with the Scots, as the hotel went in to liquidation three days before the track and field meeting! The athletes were the soberest teams I can ever remember returning to Dublin the day after this competition! Joking aside, this was a great team effort as almost every event was covered by the willingness of athletes to double up in events.
XX Universiade - Palma de Mallorca July 1999
I was very proud to be nominated by the IUAA to CUSAI at the last AGM for the position of athletics team manager. As it turned out I was offered the post of Assistant Chef de Mission for the Irish Team. Ray Shanahan was appointed Team Manager and Coach and Drew Harrison as his assistant. The history of these appointments is somewhat of a saga, but I feel that in the end the athletes in Palma ended up with the best possible scenario. While I had other duties, I took on the responsibilities of dealing with the paperwork for the athletics programme - the collecting of heat/semi-final/final lane draws, information on pools for field event athletes and each day's results, and the obtaining of the necessary documentation for ratification for National Records. I attended meetings, dealt with weighing of implements for athletes etc, in essence anything that allowed both Ray and Drew to concentrate on preparation of the athletes for their events. I believe in this respect that the system worked well and that the three of us acted in harmony as an athletics management unit, doing everything we could in the interests of the athletes. Other problems were dealt efficiently by Michael Whelan, Chef de Mission, and Kieran Dowd, Assistant Chef de Mission.
The World University Games Track and Field Championships were something I will never forget. As in Sicily two years ago two Irish athletes came 4th in their events, Karen Shinkins in the 400 m and Peter Coghlan in the 110 m hurdles, both losing out on the medals by hundredths of seconds. These results belie the performances, as Karen did a SBP in her heat, a National Record in the semi-final and a National record in the final! Peter has brought 110 m hurdling in Ireland into a new dimension over the summer and but for one error at one hurdle could well have taken the Gold in Palma. Other performances should be noted - Tomás Coman (finalist 400 m), Gareth Turnbull (7th 1500m), Gillian O'Sullivan (8th 10 K walk), Niamh Beirne (8th 1500m), Patrick McGrath (2nd longest throw by an Irishman in major competition), 4 x 400 m Men Relay (the then 2nd fastest time by an Irish quartet in the semi-final). The IUAA helped to defray some of the costs of keeping the 4 x 400 m relay team in Palma for the extra days. As many of you may know I wrote an article for the Irish Runner about the athletics at the Games. Unfortunately this got edited, and mention of some performances was deleted.
If I had to single out one performance other than that of Karen Shinkins, a true IUAA athlete, it must be that of Tomás Coman, another WIT athlete. I did not know Tomás other than from the newspapers, BLE championships, and of course his performances in Belfast at the IUAA championships in April. Tomás epitomises everything that is good about athletics. In his first major senior championship he was to perform beyond any of our expectations. Making it to the 2nd round and performing well was essentially what Ray, Drew and myself hoped for him. What happened amazed us and his team-mates - a confident but steady 1st round performance to qualify to the next round, a PB in the 2nd round for a semi-final place, a PB in the semi-final to qualify in 4th place for the final. It is difficult to imagine the feelings of all of us when disaster struck in the form of a pulled hamstring in the final, because he had already set out his stall in the most positive manner over the first 100m. Beijing 2001 and Moscow/Monterrey (?) in 2003 are still possible targets for this young athlete.
The quality of the athletic performances in Palma de Mallorca is emphasised by the World Track and Field Championship performances of athletes in Sevilla in August. Three student athletes who won titles in Palma won World Championships in Sevilla, namely, Charles Friedek (GER) in men's triple jump, Daimi Pernia (CUB) in 400m hurdles, and Mikaela Melinte (ROM) in women's hammer. A summary of performances in the XX Universiade versus the World Championships in Sevilla is provided as an appendix. There is no doubt that the World University Games are a proving ground for rising athletic talent in many countries. In this respect it was unfortunate that three athletes who made the qualification standards before the deadline declined the opportunity to represent Ireland in Palma.
I can only thank you all for giving me the opportunity and privilege of being in Palma to witness the performances of athletes brought through the University/College system to achieve at the highest possible standards.
1996-1999 and into the next Millennium and Century
The three years of my presidency are now over. I will continue on the IUAA Executive as immediate past president and hope that I can contribute to the IUAA in whatever role I am asked to adopt.
The IUAA has continued to develop and expand over the past three years. The changes to the Constitution in 1996 were designed as the next phase in bringing non-university third level institutions into the IUAA fold as teams. There have been criticisms of the Member and Associate Member statuses over the past three years. This was never designed in its conception to be a permanent arrangement or to make one group feel disenfranchised. All must realise that bringing the IUAA (and its forerunners) through its 126 years of intervarsity history to its modern being has seen many 'exclusions' and 'splits' in the past because of the politics of athletics in Ireland. TCD and QUB number among those universities who have been at the sharp end as well as NIHE Limerick and NIHE Dublin in more recent years. It takes time for fears of changes to be allayed for the future benefit of the IUAA. The stepwise approach adopted by the IUAA has allowed gradual change to become the norm and has brought all those in the organisation along a potentially bumpy road to acceptance and agreement. Eventually the advantages of increased competition reap benefits as far as participation is concerned. The IUAA has not been afraid to embrace the participation of non-university third level institutions, but has done so gradually and with caution because of the lessons of history. Undoing mistakes is often more costly than judicious progress.
At a meeting of the IUAA Executive in May much of the day was spent discussing the future direction of the IUAA. Changes to the Constitution to separate Constitutional Clauses from Rules of Competition are needed. The embracing of all colleges and universities as completely equal competitors under the rules of competition for the winning of trophies and the giving to all Members/Associate Members an equal say in determining rules of competition are essential as no college or university should fear winning or losing, if at the end of the day the true objective of intervarsity/intercollegiate athletics is an increased level of competition and a more inclusive athletic fraternity for the universities and colleges of Ireland.
To all those who have helped me to deal with problems during my Presidencya sincere and warm thank you. To the athletes of the IUAA, continue to strive to achieve in the years ahead. If you give those after me as much joy and pleasure as I have had from your athletic performances in three years, the IUAA should have an increasing role in bringing on young athletes in the future.
Cyril J. Smyth, Hon President IUAA 1996-1999