Senator Eamonn Coghlan has hailed the new indoor athletics arena at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) as the ‘best news story in Irish athletics history’.
Speaking at a tour of the International Arena for members of the media, the legendary athlete commented, “This world-class facility will inspire future generations of athletes towards greatness for many years to come.” His “only disappointment,” he added, was that he would “never get a chance to break a world indoor mile record on its magnificent 200 metre oval track.”
The €10 million facility will open its doors to the public this weekend, with the staging of the Athletics Ireland Combined Event Championships on Saturday and the Athletics Ireland Open Indoor Games on Sunday.
Another sporting legend, Sonia O’Sullivan, noted that: “The investment and foresight by AIT will be sure to enhance the ability of many Irish athletes to train at a high level throughout the winter months and also perform at home in front of their friends and family in a world-class facility.”
Chris Jones, Triathlon Ireland’s High Performance Director and coach of Fionnuala Britton, said that: “It is vital for athletes to be able to compete in world-class facilitates; it is even more important to create a centre of excellence in your own country. AIT’s indoor arena offers both the opportunity for world-class preparation for athletes and coaches, while creating an opportunity for Irish athletes to challenge the very best athletes in the world.
According to Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, President of AIT and also President of Athletics Ireland, there is “an enormous degree of excitement and anticipation about the new facility. There is a sense that this is a development of considerable importance, a red letter occasion for Irish sport,” he stated.
The new arena “is not just a resource for elite athletes,” he advised, “It is there to be used by the entire college community and, indeed, by the people of Ireland generally. We repeatedly hear about our growing obesity problem and the acute need for a society-wide appreciation of the importance of exercise and healthy living. The arena will directly support the realisation of this ambition, so from that point of view, it will hopefully have long-term positive health benefits for society,” he said.
John Foley, CEO of Athletics Ireland, commented that: “The new facility will prove to be an invaluable resource in the development of track and field in Ireland. Each year we see our athletes travel abroad to compete in indoor events and now we have a facility which can stand side-by-side with the best indoor tracks in Europe.”
The International Arena is part of a comprehensive programme of investment in AIT which has exceeded €115 million since the start of the millennium. While much of the funding has come from the Exchequer, the vast majority of the €10 million spend for the arena has been raised directly by AIT. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport awarded €737,500 in funding towards the construction of the facility in 2012 under the Special Athletics Tracks Initiative.
The International Arena has a footprint of 6,818m2 and an overall building floor area of 9,715m2. Some 850 tonnes of structural steel and 50,000 concrete blocks went into the construction of the facility which can house 2,000 spectators.
The official opening of the arena will take place next month, prior to the hosting of the Athletics Ireland Senior Indoor Championships on 16-17 February.