By Connell McHugh
The sixth annual AIT International Grand Prix is taking place tomorrow, Wednesday February 13, at 6.30pm, and if other years are anything to go by, the event will provide a spectacle of athletic feats across the arena.
In the past, Olympians such as Ashton Easton, Sally Pearson, Asafa Powell and Carmelita Jeter have taken to the track, marking it as an event not to be missed.
This year, athletes are making the journey from Europe, Australia, Canada or the USA.
Among the Irish talent is Olympic runner Thomas Barr.
The current Irish senior record holder for the 400m hurdles made Ireland hold its breath during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when he came painstakingly close to securing the bronze medal.
With a personal best of 46.87 in the indoor 400m (set on the AIT track in 2017), Barr faces Tony van Diepen (the Netherlands), Ricardo Dos Santos (Portugal), Jacob Paul (GB) and the 2018 Irish Indoor 400m champion, Luke Lennon-Ford.
The women’s 1500m race will be one to watch, as Ciara Mageean races just weeks after setting a new Irish record for the indoor mile in Boston.
Mageean will see competition from Gesa Felicitas Krause (Germany) and Claudia Bobocea (Romania), who was a finalist at the World Indoor Championships last year.
Up-and-coming Irish talent Sarah Healy could have a happy 18th birthday if she continues the form she displayed last year, when she secured the title of U18 European Champion for both the 1500m and 3000m.
The men’s mile race has Irish interests in the forms of Paul Robinson, Rory Chesser, John Travers and Kieran Kelly.
Travers looks set to lead the Irish pack, but will face the 2018 1500m Australian national Champion Ryan Gregson, and Stewart McSweyn, who was in top form at the 2018 Diamond League in Birmingham when he won the outdoor 1500m race and set a personal best in the process.
Mark English and Zak Curran will represent Ireland, along with John Fitzsimons and Kevin McGrath, in the men’s 800m.
English is the current Irish record holder for the indoor 800m in both the senior and junior categories, while Curran will be aim to improve on his season’s best time of 1:49 from two weeks ago.
Kyle Langford, who was fourth in the 2017 World Championships, and Daniel Andujar (Spain), fourth in the 2017 World Indoor Championships, will round out the field, along with Erick Sowinski (USA), who clocked a 600m indoor time of 1:16.75 at the end of January.
Sophie Becker, a 21-year-old rising talent from Wexford, is hoping to make an impression on the track in the 400m race, as she aims for a potential appearance at Tokyo 2020.
Laviai Nielsen (GB), the fourth placer from the 2018 European Championships, and Meghan Beesley, a bronze medallist from the 400m hurdles at the same competition, will line up beside her, with Kendra Chambers (USA0 completing the short start list.
‘Asia’s Fastest Man’ Su Bingtian, who secured the silver medal at the World Indoor Championships last year, will make his AIT International Grand Prix debut.
The only Asian sprinter to run sub 10 seconds for the 100m will be the favourite to win the 60m race, and will come up against four-time Irish national indoor Champion Marcus Lawler and fresh talent Leo Morgan.
Field events are set to bring the arena to life with competitions for the pole vault, high jump and long jump.
Donegal’s rising star Sommer Lecky looks set to take the win in the women’s high jump, facing the 2017 Irish Champion Phillippa Rogan and the UK’s Beth Partridge and Emma Nuttall.
Men’s pole vault will be one to keep an eye on, with 2016 Olympic Champion Thiago Brazo looking to beat the remainder of the field.
The 2018 European U18 Champion Pål Lillefosse will be seeking to make his mark, as will Adam Hague (GB) and the 2018 British Champion Charlie Myers.
With just two competitors in the men’s long jump, China’s Jianan Wang and the UK’s Paul Ogun, an already tense event is sure to be one of the highlights of the night.
The night is set to be a treat for any athletics fan, or anybody who appreciates sporting excellence, and will once again show the people of Ireland and Athlone how bright the future of Irish athletics really is.