Historic Mary Peters Stadium hosts competitive schools international

Belfast was the venue last Friday for the annual Schools International Athletic Board competition. The SIABs, as the event is more usually known, consists of representatives from the schools’ athletic associations of England, Scotland, Wales and All Ireland. That the competition was held at Mary Peters Stadium was noteworthy given that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Mary Peters’ gold medal winning performance in pentathlon at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Her achievements were monumental at a time when women struggled to gain acceptance and recognition for their sporting achievements. To put it in context, Mary’s results back then would still put her among the top performers at the recent Irish Senior Championships: 24.08 seconds in 200 metres 5.98 metres in long jump, 1.82 metres in high jump, 13.29 seconds in 100m hurdles and 16.20 metres in shot put. Fifty years ago she was the pride of all Ireland; today she is still revered as an heroic and ground-breaking figure by athletes north and south.

Wexford had two athletes competing at the SIABs, both having earned their stripes with a string of brilliant medal winning performances at the previous week’s national championships.

Both Dannan Long (FCJ, Bunclody) and Michael Kent (Good Counsel, New Ross) are, like Mary Peters, fearless and exciting multi-eventers. These boys love a challenge!

Dannan had a a bit of a time management conundrum on his hands, with both high jump and 200m running up against each other on the schedule. In a very competitive 200 metres, he placed 3rd (22.48) and immediately followed this with a 6th place in high jump (1.74 metres). He was also in action with the Irish 4×100 metres relay team, helping them to a good 2nd place in a time of 42.27 seconds.

Michael’s best effort of 13.24 metres in triple jump, 27 cms less than he jumped a week earlier, was good enough for the bronze. He placed 4th in pole vault, with a clearance of 3.85 metres, just 5 cm off his personal best. All in all, this was a fine achievement for this 15 year old, especially as he was giving away a couple of years against his fellow competitors.

When it comes to marrying natural athleticism with untainted enthusiasm and love of the sport, one will not find two better exponents. May the achievements of Mary Peters a half century ago inspire them and guide them in their future endeavours.