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Darragh McElhinney’s Metz magic is an important stopping point on his road to Paris 

February 15th, 2024 1:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Darragh McElhinney’s Metz magic is an important stopping point on his road to Paris  Image
Darragh McElhinney ran a 3000m PB in Metz earlier this month.

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DARRAGH McElhinney accepts that there will be plenty of twists and turns on his road to Paris this summer, and with no guarantee he’ll arrive at his planned destination.

The Glengarriff man’s target is to qualify for the men’s 5000m at this summer’s Olympic Games – he wants one of the 42 places up for grabs.

If he runs the qualifying standard of 13:05.00, McElhinney is in, but he will need to run a huge new personal best; his current PB stands at 13:17.17, set in 2022. Hitting the standard will make his life a lot easier, but there is another route to Paris. 

‘It’s a strange system with the different ways of qualifying – run the automatic qualifying time or go through ranking points,’ the 23-year-old explained.

‘The level of competition in the last couple of years has exploded, not just in the men’s 5k. It’s now getting to the stage that six months out from the Olympics, in the majority of the events 90 percent of athletes will have ran the qualifying standard. If you are going to get in on ranking points they are going to have to be really good.

‘In many ways the goal doesn’t change, in terms of the summer I will need to run really good 5ks to qualify. I want to be as close to the automatic qualification as possible but it’s trying to balance that by figuring out what are the best races to run in terms of points and which races will go fast that you can get dragged along to run a standard in.’

‘There will be a lot of moving parts,’ McElhinney added, and he will watch the World Athletics Rankings closer than ever before. If he can run three good times before the qualification window closes at the end of July, it will boost his chances of becoming an Olympian. 


The good news is that his recent 3000m PB of 7:39.92 at the World Indoor Tour Meet in Metz has ticked one box already; he went straight to France from his now-annual high altitude training camp in Kenya in January, and hit the ground running. His impressive showing saw him go second on the Irish indoors all-time list, but also snaffle up considerable ranking points that then changed his plan for the rest of the indoor season. Like he says, there are a lot of moving parts in this Olympic qualification year.

‘Metz was a silver race so the bonus points aren’t as good as a gold race. I ended up running really well and getting a lot of bonus points, 1200 for the performance and an additional 50 for coming third; that’s a good score. For the indoor season, I’ll finish it now. With the Olympics being the priority there’s not a whole pile for me to gain by running more indoor races,’ he said.  

‘The chances are the points I got in Metz will be good enough if I run two good 5k outdoors. It makes more sense to go back training now and get ready to run a big 5k in March or April in America where they will start the outdoor season earlier than over here.’

The plan has been for McElhinney to skip the national senior indoor championships this weekend – he won back-to-back 3000m indoor national titles in 2022 and ’23 – and now the focus will be on another training block for the crunch outdoor season.

‘It’s a shame to miss the nationals, but I don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing this year; there is so much pressure in trying to qualify,’ he explained, as his attention is on the Olympics in August, as well as the 2024 European Athletics Championships in June.

‘The Europeans are given the highest grade possible so there are crazy points attached to it,’ he said.

There’s a reason why McElhinney keeps referencing his 3000m PB in Metz because it was an important race for a number of reasons – there was the PB and ranking points attached, but it was also a confidence-booster coming off the back of a 2023 season that plateaued. 

‘I had a good year in 2022, then felt I couldn't get out of second gear last year,’ he said, admitting his confidence was low coming into this Olympic qualification year – but there was a reason why he never got going in the 2023 outdoor season.

‘I picked up an illness at the start of last summer and I was beginning to get worried that it was lingering and I didn’t know when I was going to shake it,’ McElhinney said.

‘Even in Kenya when the training was going well I didn’t have the confidence that I could race properly in case the illness was still in my system. 

‘In athletics if your body is not 100 percent you can kinda get away with it in training because you rarely go to the absolute well like you do in a race; that was happening to me last summer, I trained well but when I went to race it wasn’t there. That’s why I can take so much confidence from Metz, how strong I felt in the race, it was up there with one of my best-ever performances. To know I could do that off the block of training makes me confident going into the next block and to see what I can do after that.’

McElhinney suffers from allergies. ‘Very badly,’ in his own words. This combined with the illness took its toll; his body was fighting on two fronts: against the allergies and the illness.

‘I hadn’t really raced well since I developed this so I thought this was what was holding me back, but when I was in Metz my allergies were pretty bad but I ran well so that put my mind at ease a lot,’ he added, as attention now turns to the outdoor season and running the times he needs to get him to Paris this summer.   

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