BRENDAN BOYCE HAS CALLED on Athletics Ireland and the Irish Sports Council to implement a system of succession and retention for Irish athletes.
The 28-year-old Milford man has already booked his place at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio having secured the qualification mark for the 50k race walk at a meeting in Dudince, Slovakia, in March.
Boyce has competed in the 50k race walk only seven times, but has already featured at the 2012 Olympic Games, the 2013 and 2015 World Championships and the 2014 European Championships.
Each time, Boyce has set a personal best and his curve has been consistently on an upward direction since he debuted in Dudince in March 2010.
Picture caption: Brendan Boyce competing in the 50k race walk at the 2015 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China.
Boyce receives €12,000 per annum from the Irish Sports Council. That aside, funding is light, but it is in the area of athlete support that the Letterkenny AC walker sees a big need for attention.
“The turnover in Irish athletes is huge,” Boyce told Donegal Sport Hub.
“The team that was in Moscow two years ago for the Worlds was completely different to the one that was in Beijing last month.
“In general, the team changes every season. I turn up and it’s like: ‘Oh, there’s 10 new athletics’.
“We need a system where it isn’t just a group of talented athletes peaking this season and another group peaking next season.”
From Moscow to Beijing, only five athletes stayed the same, including Boyce, Mark English and Tori Pena, with Rob Heffernan and Brian Gregan competing both times.
“You need to retain athletes over seven or eight years,” Boyce said.
“I went back and looked at the results for the Slovakian Matej (Tóth, gold medal winner in the men’s 50k walk in Beijing) and it has taken him six years to go from 10th to first.
“He’s come through now and won a gold. He’s been banging out performances for seven years. You don’t see that enough with Irish athletes.
“Before Rob, Olive Loughnane and Gillian O’Sullivan, you’d have had Sonia O’Sullivan, but who else could you name? Unless you’re into athletics, you probably wouldn’t even know the others.”
Boyce is based in Cork and trains alongside Rob Heffernan, the 2013 World Championship gold medallist, who finished in fifth place in Beijing.
Heffernan is 37 now and Rio next summer will be his Olympic swansong.
“I’d want a system there for me to come in and follow Rob,” Boyce said.
“What will that legacy be? Will there be a gap or will they support the athletes coming through after him?
“You need that support to get medals. You can’t drop the standards. You need to give an athlete a couple of years to perform. It’s very important for Irish athletes to see a long-term plan.
“You only have to look at the coaching structure in this country to see the difficulty.
“It’s very volunteer-based so when an athlete, say, goes away to college in Dublin, they move coach. When they leave college, they go somewhere else to someone else. It’s why you see a lot of Irish athletes at 18-22 years of age performing better, but the door closes and the development stops post-23.”
Boyce is young in race walking terms. He only turns 29 next month.
Heffernan, for instance, was 34 when he won the Worlds, Tóth is 32 and Yohann Dinz of France is 37.
For Boyce, continuing the improvement is the aim and he already has designs on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
In 2012, Boyce finished 29th in London, a result that has since been upgraded to 26th because of disqualifications.
“London was my first big international event. London was everything,” he said.
“I managed at my level to get a positive result and do a three-minute PB.
“People might look at the result and not think much about a 29th place, but for next year in terms of all the athletes going to Rio, people need to look at what they’ve done before and just ask: ‘Have they finished at a higher level than they did before?’”
With the Olympic experience under his belt from London, Boyce believes he’ll be better equipped to deal with Rio – but, given that it’ll be an inexperienced Olympic team representing Ireland, he thinks the public should be realistic with their expectations.
“Going into Rio, we shouldn’t expect much,” he said.
“Only myself and Rob will have had Olympic experience.
“To expect someone to turn up at the Olympic Games and produce something world class or to medal isn’t realistic.
“Even the World Championships are so different. It’s actually impossible to describe the difference between the Worlds and the Olympics.
“Coping with that extra pressure is mad. You have way more commitments to do interviews and so many extra distractions. You’re bombarded with loads of information and things to deal with.”