THE thought of racing against the best athletes in the world doesn’t faze Darragh McElhinney.
The 17-year-old from Glengarriff competes in the 5000m at the IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, this Saturday afternoon.
This is the first time Darragh has raced at world championship level.
‘I’ve had some great experiences so far but this will trump all of them,’ he says.
‘There’s a big difference from lining up against lads from Europe and lining up against runners from Africa, Australia and America.
‘I’ll be racing against the very best in the world so I want to do myself justice.’
The Bantry AC club-man represented Ireland in the 1500m at the European U20 Championships in Italy last summer but he admits this is a big step up. He’s racing against genuine world-class middle-distance runners.
‘The leading fella in my race, he’s from Ethiopia, he has run 12.55, which is about ten seconds slower than Mo Farah,’ Darragh points out.
‘The top ten, being realistic, will be in a race of their own and after that it’s about battling for places with other European lads who might be a year older than me.
‘It’s guaranteed to be a fast race. Even if the African runners decide to go out slowly, that’s still a fast pace for the rest of us.
‘If I could come home with a PB, I’d be happy, to try and take a few seconds off my best time now, 14:11. I ran that in Belgium in May.’
Qualifying for these world junior championships in Finland was Darragh’s target at the start of the season. That’s mission accomplished but, he says, he’s not making the trip to admire the rest of the athletes.
‘The top 5k runners are, to be honest, leagues ahead of everyone else but I want to see how I match up with them, how I keep up with them and try to learn as much as I can from that.’
Ahead of his biggest challenge Darragh completed his preparations in style when he won gold in the U20 men’s 1500m at the Irish Life Health U20 Track & Field Championships at Tullamore. It’s his first junior national timely and also a timely boost.
‘It’s been a fairly up and down season, with good runs and tough days – but I’m going into the worlds now as confident as I have been all season, off the back of the 1500m All-Ireland win,’ he says.
‘That was important to me, to drop down and show that I have the speed, that puts me into a good mind-set ahead of this weekend.’
Darargh also takes the move from 1500m up to the 5000m in his stride. He feels his cross-country background and endurance combine well with his speed over the 1500m, and he hopes to show that on the world stage this Saturday.