The UCD Athletics Club is one of the university’s most successful sports club ever. It holds the school record for churning out Olympians and World Championship competitors. UCD Athletics had five athletes compete for Ireland in both the 2012 and 2016 games. Why then, among the many impressive and proud athletic facilities at UCD, is a track not among them?
It wasn’t always this way. The first UCD track opened in 1977 and was enjoyed by thousands of athletes, students and community members. Such heavy use along with neglect forced its abrupt shutdown in 2011 “due to certified safety concerns.” To deter diehards, UCD authorities reportedly dug holes in the track to further discourage its use. A decade on a parking lot occupies one half while the rest of the remains sit dilapidated. Undeterred, even that sad excuse for a track gets used by daily, proving the demand for a real one.
At the time of the track shutdown, the UCD Athletics club was winning individual and team titles. The lack of a continuity plan has been tough on the team. James Nolan, a former UCD athletics scholarship recipient and now middle-distance Coach for the UCD Athletics club told the College Tribune, ‘High-performance athletes by nature find a way to make things work.’ The club still trains mostly on campus using the gravel trails and grass pitches but for specific track sessions, they go to Ringsend Track in Irishtown or the National Indoor Arena in Blanchardstown.
‘The team has struggled a bit because we didn’t have a home base,’ explains Nolan, ‘Like any sport you need somewhere for people to go especially with a sport like athletics where there are different disciplines.’ The absence of a track has diminished ‘a family sort of team vibe, where before there might have been a bit more of that.’
Help is on the way. In 2018, UCD received a philanthropic donation of €3 million ‘for the specific purpose of developing a new Athletics Track.’ In 2019, ‘planning was approved and works commenced’ on a new eight-lane IAAF approved track that would sit near the Clonskeagh entrance of campus near the Sports Center. After multiple pandemic-related disruptions to the building process, the new Athletics Track is scheduled for completion ‘this coming Summer, 2021,’ says UCD.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the UCD Athletics Club. The addition of a track will undoubtedly support the continued growth and achievements of the club and the wider UCD community for decades to come. ‘It’s the final piece in the jigsaw as far as making UCD the number one track and field destination because we have absolutely everything else,’ says Nolan.
Maeve Dodd – Campus Writer