RUNNING ON EMPTY; Under-Fire Ankrom Isn't Clicking with Irish Culture

Daily Mail (London), November 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

RUNNING ON EMPTY; Under-Fire Ankrom Isn't Clicking with Irish Culture


Byline: JONATHAN COATES

ON AUGUST 13 last, the plane bringing Team Ireland back from the London Olympics landed at Dublin Airport and after the medallists disembarked, Kevin Ankrom was one of the first onto terra firma.

As he walked in the direction of Terminal 2, the man in charge of elite athletics in this country reached into a well-stocked bag of Team Ireland pin badges and started tossing them, like confetti, into the assembled ranks of photographers, journalists, security personnel and airport staff separated from the team by a barrier.

This was not a wedding, nor even a victory parade, and it left observers looking at one another as if to say: 'Did he really just do that?'

On October 15 last, Sportsmail called Ankrom to ascertain his view on the impending departure of Anne Keenan-Buckley and, as high performance director, the direction in which he would be taking his programme in light of a dreadful Olympics for Irish track and field.

He was surprised to learn that Keenan-Buckley had told Athletics Ireland (AAI) of her intention to resign as head of crosscountry and endurance, but admitted that such an eventuality had already been discussed 'internally'. He then said: 'You will see some transition and this is the time that it is going to happen. You are going to see people step down.'

Again, a common reaction was disbelief, as more than one reader asked: 'Did he really say that?' Stars of track and field can be notoriously precious athletes. To succeed they have to live selfishly, governed by self-preservation, and many have fragile egos. They need to be carefully managed if they are to fulfil their potential.

Critics of Ankrom in his six-figure salary, argue that he has not proved to be a very careful man-manager, and could even be described as haphazard. Anne Keenan-Buckley, AAI's outgoing head of endurance and cross-country, is a respected authority on high performance and somebody well-liked by athletes such as Fionnuala Britton, who will attempt to defend her European cross-country title next month.

Keenan-Buckley should be heading to Hungary as team manager, but she resigned three weeks ago, and put it in writing on Wednesday. That she felt she could not stick the job for another five weeks, with the prospect of adding more medal success to her CV, is indicative of a malfunctioning department.

It is understood that repeated attempts were made by chief executive John Foley to talk her round, but it was not to be. Ankrom, when informed of Keenan-Buckley's resignation by Sportsmail, dismissed the parting as an inevitable outcome of his campaign for change.

But Chris Jones, who was paid as a consultant by AAI to put HP plans in place for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics before Ankrom was hired, was one of the many bystanders staggered to hear of the split.

Performance director of Triathlon Ireland as well as coach to Fionnuala Britton, Jones said yesterday: 'Kevin has a difficult job to do, like any director -- it is difficult. But Anne is a huge loss to the high-performance department; I respect her greatly and what she has done in her commitment to AAI is colossal.

'I am talking as a coach here and not as PD for triathlon, and it is easy to pick holes, but the fact is that if there has been a change through difficult circumstances, you should pick up the phone to your athletes and coaches and say: "Okay, how do we resolve this?"

'It's five weeks before a major championships and at that time you should be checking on your athletes' preparations, talking to their coaches about what they need. Anne was the stop-gap between Athletics Ireland and Fionnuala, and now she's gone.

'I think Kevin is doing a great job in putting resources together and in medical rehab, things like that, but the culture of Ireland is such that you have to form and nurture relationships with the volunteer base, because you are dependent on that network. …

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