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 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 that runs from today until Sunday.
Twenty-eight-year-old 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 secured a quota place for Ireland by finishing eight 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 eight 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."