April 20, 2019
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Maine native named alternate to Irish Olympic women’s marathon team

Courtesy of Brian O'Neill
Courtesy of Brian O'Neill
Down East native Gladys Ganiel runs past St. Patrick's Church in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, on her way to winning the Jimmy's 10K Road Race in March.

Gladys Ganiel’s bid to represent Ireland in the 2016 Summer Olympics apparently has come up just short.

The 39-year-old graduate of Narraguagus High School in Harrington, who now works as a research fellow at the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, has been selected as the first alternate to the Irish women’s marathon team that will compete in the 31st Summer Games to be held in August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Three women with faster qualifying times than Ganiel, Lizzie Lee (2:32:51), Fionnuala McCormack (2:33:15) and Breege Connolly (2:37:29), were named to the Irish team this week by the five–person Athletics Ireland selection panel, according to the Irish Times.

As first alternate, Ganiel could become eligible to replace one of the three team members should any of them be forced to drop out because of injury, the Times reported.

There had been some thought that Ganiel, who ran the fourth-fastest qualifying time among Irish runners of 2 hours, 38 minutes and 47 seconds at Seville, Spain, in February — just nine months after she and her husband, Brian O’Neill, became parents to their son, Ronan — might be able to secure one of the three Olympic team berths.

McCormack also had achieved the Olympic qualifying time for the 10,000-meter run, “but has let them select her for the marathon, so presumably she is not changing her mind now,” said Ganiel in an email Tuesday.

In addition, the qualifying time run by Connolly — a teammate of Ganiel with the North Belfast Harriers running club — is more than a year old, and there was some question as to how that would be received by the selection panel.

“It was always going to be tough to be selected without having one of the three fastest times, even though we all ran different marathon courses,” said Ganiel. “It wouldn’t be constructive to speculate on what factors played into the final selections. Different people can look at the same set of facts and come to different conclusions — that happens in all walks of life. Everyone who was selected is a super athlete and it will be fun to see how they do in Rio.”

Ganiel ran the Leiden Half Marathon in the Netherlands on Sunday in an effort to show the Athletics Ireland officials that she had recovered sufficiently from her February marathon, but while she won the race her time of 78:28 in what the Irish Times described as “difficult conditions,” it did not convince the selection panel to move her up to one of the three Olympic team berths.

“I am always disappointed when I don’t have a good race,” said Ganiel. “There were a number of factors involved in the race itself: I didn’t expect there to be 90 percent humidity in the Netherlands in May, nor did I expect a quarter of the course to be run on twisty cobblestone roads. That can really slow you down.”

The Leiden race also came not long after the death of Ganiel’s mother, Jennie, in Harrington on May 13 at age 73.

“The week leading into the race was not normal for me,” said Ganiel. “She had been ill so we had been expecting it, but I know I went into the race feeling a bit drained.

“At the same time, I know my mother would have wanted me to run. She always really enjoyed watching my sisters and me when we were involved in sports — though she did get very nervous. She was there but I think she was actually too nervous to watch the time when I went against Cindy Blodgett in the state free throw championship!”

Ganiel, a dual U.S.-Irish citizen who was a distance running standout at both Narraguagus and Providence (Rhode Island) College, will not be without an international race to compete in this summer.

She has been selected to represent Ireland in the European half-marathon championships on July 10 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


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