Commonwealth Games: Could McMullen end 28-year NI wait for Games athletics medal?

By John HaugheyBBC Sport NI
Long jumper McMullen hopes Gold Coast can propel him to 'global stage'
2018 Commonwealth Games
Venue: Gold Coast, Australia Dates: 4-15 April
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, Red Button, Connected TVs, BBC Sport website and app; listen on Radio 5 live and follow text updates online.

Adam McMullen chuckles when you suggest that he might just be Northern Ireland's best chance of a track and field field medal at the Commonwealth Games.

"Don't be putting pressure on me," the 27-year-old county Londonderry long jumper fires back in mock anger.

While the likes of 1500m runner Ciara Mageean and 200m man Leon Reid may beg to differ, the chances of a first Northern Irish track and field Games medal in 28 years don't look great but late developer McMullen could be the man to wager a few pounds on if you do fancy a flutter.

For the record, discus thrower Jackie McKernan and high jumper Janet Boyle were Northern Ireland's last track and field medallists when claiming silver at the Auckland Games in 1990.

Six foot five inch McMullen has made steady progress towards the eight-metre barrier over the last three years after his career initially stagnated for four seasons when he entered the senior ranks in 2011.

He was one centimetre shy of eight metres when triumphing at last month's Irish Indoor Championships and the expected good conditions in Gold Coast could offer the opportunity to achieve a major career milestone.

While South Africa's world champion Luvo Manyonga and bronze medallist from London 2017 Ruswahl Samaai are scheduled to compete in Australia, England's defending champion Greg Rutherford will not.

Adam McMullen (second from left) with Northern Ireland track and field team-mates Sommer Lecky, Jack Agnew and Amy Foster
McMullen (second from left) shows off the Northern Ireland Games kit with fellow athletes Sommer Lecky, Jack Agnew and Amy Foster

Samaai clinched bronze in Glasgow with a leap of 8.08m which is the kind of distance that looks within McMullen's compass if he can get everything right in Australia.

"I think I'm top eight in the Commonwealth (rankings) at the minute," adds the Belfast-based athlete, whose working life involves bringing track and field to schools and sports clubs in predominantly working-class communities around Northern Ireland.

"A realistic expectation first is to make the final. Once I can go through the qualification round, I can see what everyone else is looking like.

"I wouldn't be surprised….I'd be happy if I finished top five or top three but the focus has to be on getting through the qualification round into the final.

"The target will be to jump over eight metres in the Games but in terms of my future as a long jumper I would like to see myself as a contender on the global stage so I want to be around 8.20, 8.30 at my peak."

NI long jumper Adam McMullen explains how he got involved in athletics

'I wasn't that good until I was 18'

If McMullen can make that leap onto the global stage, it will represent a remarkable achievement for an athlete who by his own admission didn't appear an international athlete in the making for nearly all his teenage years.

Living on a farm in the south Derry hamlet of Newbridge, McMullen was encouraged by his mother Sarah to be active as he tried gymnastics, swimming, horse riding and even Irish dancing before joining Mid-Ulster Athletics Club in Magherafelt in his final year at primary school.

"I made a lot of friends in athletics even though I wasn't that good until I was about 18 years old. I persevered because I enjoyed athletics and mostly because I enjoyed the company of the people around the sport.

"My last year at secondary school was the only year I qualified for the Irish Schools Championships and I won the long jump and finished second in the triple jump.

"I went from a 6.36m personal best in the long jump when I was 17 to 7.28m when I was 18 so put on nearly a metre in a year."

But after jumping 7.61m as a 20-year-old in 2011, McMullen didn't better that for almost four years before he sailed to 7.80m as he won the Irish Indoor title in Athlone in February 2015.

The leap earned him his first major international vest a couple of weeks later as he represented Ireland at the European Indoor Championships in Prague.

McMullen's Olympic ambition

Since then, the Northern Irishman has inched closer to the eight-metre mark as he jumped 7.84m in 2016, 7.85m last year before leaps of 7.97m and 7.99m during the recent indoor season.

McMullen's rate of progress suggests he must have a great chance of breaching the eight-metre barrier at the Commonwealth Games although the long jump is a technical event which can go badly wrong under the pressure of major championship conditions.

The county Londonderry man is already looking beyond the Games with qualification already secured for the European Championships in Berlin in August, with his major career goal earning a place at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

"The aim next year would be to put a lot of work in the winter, hopefully see some benefits in the indoor season and bring that into some good outdoor competitions in a warm-weather stint in Florida.

"With me comfortable in that hot environment having been out there for four to six weeks, hopefully I would be able to get over the Olympic standard which is probably going to be about 8.15m."

But first things first, it's the Commonwealth Games with McMullen hoping to get within a sniff of ending a Northern Ireland's long track and field medal drought.

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