Irish pentathlon star Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe steps up his bid to qualify for a third Olympic Games with the confidence of knowing he is in the best shape of his life.
The Kilkenny athlete (28) spent part of the off-season on an intensive altitude training camp in Iten, Kenya.
This week he is in Egypt and, alongside Natalya Coyle and Sive Brassil, hoping to see the fruits of his labour as the Olympic season begins at UIPM 2020 Pentathlon World Cup Cairo (26 February – 1 March).
Lanigan-O’Keeffe has yet to secure qualification for Tokyo 2020 and, like Brassil (26), is aiming to climb up the UIPM Olympic Rankings with a strong performance in the season-opener.
Coyle (29) secured a quota place for Ireland by finishing 8th at the 2019 European Championships, allowing her to adjust her winter training with the aim of peaking once – when the stakes are highest in August. But for Lanigan-O’Keeffe, the need to find his competitive edge more frequently throughout the season required a different approach.
That’s why he packed his bags for the mountains of Kenya.
“I’m a big sports fan, especially athletics, and I’ve read a lot of sports books about running with Kenyans and I’m friends with a lot of Irish runners who go out there, and my running coach Steve Macklin has been going out there for the last couple of years,” said Lanigan-O’Keeffe.
“It was always something I wanted to do but never something my timetable allowed. This year, recovering from a lacklustre 2019 full of injuries, I felt I needed a slightly different approach.
“It turned out to be a really good decision. I got a big block of training done, much more than I’ve ever done in my life in terms of running, and I was healthy the whole way through.”
Lanigan-O’Keeffe finished 8th in the Rio 2016 Olympics. In 2015 he was individual European champion, and in 2018 he claimed gold at UIPM Pentathlon World Cup Sofia. He has also won numerous Mixed Relay titles alongside Coyle. But training in the mountains of East Africa opened his eyes to a whole new world.
He added: “It was an amazing experience, and obviously the agenda was not to get better at swimming or fencing anything, it was to get fit again with a big block of training and be ready and robust for the season to come, because it’s going to be a crazy one.
“I also had a physical therapist travel out with me, Evan Scully, who has worked with Olympic champions, and he knew everyone in Kenya and that meant I got a real insight into what life is like out there.
“I came back from Kenya and ran 35sec faster than I’ve ever run for a 5k, and all my testing was far superior to anything I’ve done in my life. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, and that is proved by the results of the physiology tests, which I’ve been doing since 2011.
“I would do that trip every year from now on if I was to continue with Pentathlon. It was something special, a really magical place.”
The competition begins today (Wednesday) with the women’s qualification, followed by the men’s qualification. If all goes well Ireland will have an interest in all three finals, with the women competing for medals on Friday, the men on Saturday and the Mixed Relay on Sunday.
Pentathlon Ireland’s high-performance support structure has never been stronger outside an Olympic Games, with a support team of four accompanying the three athletes to Cairo.
Paddy Boyd, Pentathlon Ireland CEO, said: “We are delighted to have a support team in Cairo headed up by Performance Director Martina McCarthy and composed of Fencing Coach Andrei Fedotov, Riding Coach John Ledingham and physio Ciara McCallion.
“We are grateful to Sport Ireland and the Olympic Council of Ireland for providing the resources needed for our team to compete at global level throughout the 2020 season, when the stakes are so high.
“We are leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to have three Irish pentathletes competing at the Olympic Games for the first time, and we all wish Natalya, Sive and Arthur the very best of luck this week in Cairo as the 2020 adventure begins.”
Lanigan-O’Keeffe added: “I’ve been so grateful for the support team we’ve had in recent years, and we’ve got a really good team behind us for this World Cup season. We’re going to have a physio with us for the first time since the Europeans in 2015 and the Olympic Games.
“You always see the other athletes getting a rub down before the Laser Run, so it will be nice to have the same preparation as them.
“We’ve got Andrei for fencing and we’re going to have an amazing riding coach this time as well, John Ledingham, and we are really blessed to have him.
“To be honest, I’m not thinking too much about what position I finish here. At the moment it’s about controlling what I can control, sticking to my processes, and if I do that I hope it will have me somewhere up near the top.”
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For more information please contact Jonathan Coates on +44 7788 352219.