Monday, May 20, 2024


TWO talented local athletes are looking forward to competing in the Commonwealth Youth Games, which begin on Friday.

The Games, dubbed ‘Trinbago’, are taking place in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago and will run from 4 to 11 August. 17-year-old Anna Gardiner will compete in the 3,000m event while Lucy Foster, also 17, will take on the challenge of the 1,500m race.

The opportunity to test themselves against top-quality international competitors will be a wonderful experience for both Lucy and Anna. Down High School student Lucy has impressed on the athletics circuit, competing in the European Youth Olympics last year and winning gold in the U17 All-Ireland Cross-Country competition in January. Lucy, who is coached by her dad Davy, has been running competitively since the age of ten. She has been training in Portugal to help her acclimatise to the weather conditions in the Caribbean and says preparation for the Games has gone well. “I went to Portugal for warm weather training, so I was able to get used to the heat over there,” she explained.

“Training has been going great, I got a three-second PB in my last race (before heading to the Games), so things are going well.” Lucy, whose club is Willowfield Harriers, aims to qualify from the 1,500m heats and advance to the final, where she wants to “do her best” and compete against some of the finest young athletes in the world. For mum Joanne and dad Davy, who Lucy says have played a massive part in helping her get to the Games, it’s an incredibly proud moment.

Joanne, a keen runner herself, described how she felt when she found out Lucy had been selected as part of the Northern Ireland team and said the achievement is testament to the hard work she’s put in over the years. “I was absolutely delighted, I couldn’t believe it,” Joanne said. “As long as she enjoyed it (running), that was always my thought, but the consistency has always been there, and she’s always liked leading races from a young age. “She’s never lost interest; rain, hail or shine she’s out training. “She’s never been pushed out the door, she’ll just go and do it. It’s brilliant.” Assumption Grammar School pupil Anna Gardiner has also been making huge waves in athletics, picking up an U-18 gold medal in the All-Ireland Cross Country Championships last year, earning selection for the Irish U20 team at the European CrossCountry Championships at just 16 years of age and winning gold in the All-Ireland Schools Track and Field Championship 3,000m race in June, to name just a few of her notable achievements. Anna has been warming up for the Games with multiple training sessions at the Mary Peters Track in Belfast while also undertaking strength and conditioning training with Athletics NI.

She recently took part in her final event before travelling to Trinidad and Tobago, competing in the U-18 3,000m and 1,500m races at the All-Ireland Age Group Championships, winning gold in the 3,000m and bronze in the 1,500m. She’s looking forward to the Youth Commonwealth Games experience and is excited by the prospect of taking on international opposition for the first time. “It’s amazing. Even just getting to go away and being with other young athletes for 12 days, it’ll be a brilliant opportunity,” Anna said. “Getting to compete at a big stadium will be brilliant and give you a flavour for what the big competitions are like on track. “There’s a few of the English girls that are competing that I’ve run against before but you’ve also got the Kenyans and athletes from different countries who I’ve never heard of or competed against before. I know they’re going to be amazing, so it’s a bit scary, but it’ll be a great experience. “I’ve done Europeans (competitions) before, where you kind of know who you’re up against, but with the Commonwealths, it’s a bit more intriguing as you have competition from all over the world,” Anna said. Anna was keen to point out the importance of the East Down AC coaches and members in helping her on her athletics journey. “They’ve been brilliant, especially at a young age, when I was maybe losing interest a bit in running, the thing that always kept me going was my club mates.

“Unfortunately, at the minute there’s not many people my age at the club, but back when I was in first year, just bringing the interest back into the sport was so important for me.” “Peter (coach) and everyone that does the admin at the club are unreal, they’re so supportive with helping you to register for events and getting everything sorted out that you don’t think of, so they’ve been vital.”

East Down AC’s Peter Morgan has coached Anna since she joined the club at a young age and has been her individual coach for the past five years. He says it will be a proud moment for him and everyone involved with EDAC. “The whole club are very proud of Anna and I’m very proud of what Anna has achieved. “Hopefully she can continue on that trajectory and keep improving, she has a lot of potential.” Although admitting competition for podium positons will be fierce, Peter feels a top ten finish in the 3,000m race is possible for Anna, but says a personal best and progression as an athlete are the primary goals. “When I looked at the world rankings recently, Anna was top 30 in the world (in the U-18 3,000m event) but all of the countries in the world aren’t involved in the Commonwealth Games. “So, I personally hope for a top ten finish but all I really want is a PB, if she beats her PB it means we’re progressing. “The experience is going to be good for her and hopefully it’ll put her in a position where she understands what’s required in terms of travelling to competitions, living out of a hotel etc. “It will be a great experience for the long-term development of her as an athlete and that’s what’s most important at this early stage of her athletics career.”

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