Ó Lionáird takes bronze in 3,000m
Amy Foster (right) qualified for Sunday's 60m semi-finals with a fifth place finish in her heat in Gothenburg. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Ciaran O'Lionaird (right) with his bronze medal for finishing third in the Men's 3000m final, alongside first placed Hayle Ibrahimov of Azerbijan and silver medalist Juan Carlos Higuero from Spain. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Fionnuala Britton of Ireland, Polina Jelizarova of Latvia and Charlotta Fougberg of Sweden compete in the Women's 3000m heats on day two of the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Brian Gregan after tripping in the semi-finals of the Men's 400m at the European Indoors in Gothenburg. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Athletics:If the way Ciarán Ó Lionáird won Ireland’s first medal at these European Indoor Championships wasn’t personally compensating enough, the timing of it certainly was – coming as did just half an hour after Brian Gregan’s medal hopes were sent crashing to the track.
Ó Lionáird needed to execute perfect tactics in his 3,000 metres final, and did exactly he that, putting himself on the shoulder of gold medal favourite Hayle Ibrahimov of Azerbaijan in the final lap showdown. As hard as he kicked, Ó Lionáird just couldn’t get past him – then in the last sprint for the finish he was passed by the experienced Spaniard Juan Carlos Higuero.
Yet his bronze medal – in a personal best of 7:50.40 – was more than just reward for an athlete who just over six months ago was left contemplating his future in the sport after a nightmare experience at the London Olympics.
“I’d rather have run for gold, and got bronze, like I did, than run for silver and got silver,” said Ó Lionáird, an extra layer of maturity now obviously sitting on the shoulders of the 24 year-old from Cork. “So, I’m not elated. But it is satisfying, and something to move forward with, for sure. I suppose I’m still a little new to these indoor championships, with a lot less experience than some of those guys. I kind of wanted to see it played out in front of me, and not go crazy, and I didn’t do anything crazy.
“I felt I’d one big move to make, I made that, and moved up onto Ibrahimov I thought I could get past him, but not quite. He actually surprised me with his turn of speed. Then Higuero ran a very, very astute race, and has got the experience for that.”
Ibrahimov – who won silver two years ago – took the win in 7:49.74, but the race was constantly evolving, and Ó Lionáird always kept his cool: “Athletes would be lying if they said there were never doubts in your head. You just try to talk yourself out of those negative thoughts. It never feels smooth. It’s never easy. I just put the negative thoughts out of my head. I knew if I could be there with three laps to go it was coming into my territory, and I could start to do some work, extract something from the race.
“Of course I would have liked to win gold, but this is a culmination season, coming back from last season’s disappointment. This has given more some silverware, or rather some bronze-ware, but kept me hungry, and certainly come out and beat those guys later in the year. I’m satisfied, but I won’t be going to bed tonight satisfied. I’m still motivated.”
No such joy for Gregan, who went into his semi-final of the 400m still ranked number one in Europe, but never made it past the bell lap, tripped from behind, approaching the break at 200m, by the Ukrainian runner Volodymyr Burakov. The Czech runner Pavel Maslak was in front, being chased by Britain’s Nigel Levine, but with Gregan in third – and with three to qualify – he looked safe enough, assuming he would kick on anyway over the last 200m.
Instead his race ended there and then, in an instant. Minutes later he was stretchered off and required nine stitches on the left side of his lower leg, where Burakov had connected: “He didn’t just trip me, he stood on me,” said Gregan, an obvious mix of emotions. “I didn’t do anything wrong, it wasn’t may fault whatsoever, but then these things happen indoors. I’ll just have to deal with it, move on to outdoors.”
Irish manager Patsy McGonagle did submit an appeal, on the grounds that Burakov had illegally impeded Gregan: even if successful, and Burakov was disqualified, it’s unlikely that Gregan will get a place in the final, and even if he did, his coach John Shields said there is no way he could run.
Left in the meantime are two finalists for tomorrow’s morning session: Ciara Everardbooked her spot in the 800m final (10.45am Irish time) after a very brave effort, just holding on for third in her semi-final, while Fionnuala Brittonwill challenge for a 3,000m medal to go with her back-to-back titles in the European Cross Country.
Lisburn’s Amy Fosterwill run in tomorrow's 60m semi-final (3.30pm) after she equalled her personal best to take fifth in her this morning.
Britton qualified with the sort of controlled effort that suggests there is plenty more in the tank, and there will need to be: the final – set for 11.10am – will include a couple of fast-finishers that will almost certainly require Britton to start burning off some of their speed from some distance out.
“Well, it’s a short enough race, anyway,” said Britton, hardly breathing at all after taking third in her heat, in 9:03.30. “I probably will have to run a personal best, but no one has really run that fast this year. You have to go in there believe you can win a medal. But then all 12 girls in the final will be thinking the same.”
Former silver medallist Sara Moreira from Portugal won the heat in 9:01.30, Lauran Howarth from Great Britain given exactly the same time as the Irish women, in second. The Russian Natalya Aristarkhova looked easy in winning the second heat in 9:02.61, as did the former Ethiopian Almensch Belete, now running for Belgium.
Yet Britton’s time ranks her fourth fastest, and there looks to no more than five or six serious contenders for a medal.
“I’ve never ran an indoor championships before," said Britton. "Heats are always a little tactical, and no one wants to run faster than they need to, but it was fine, a bit messy. I got what I wanted out it, that’s the main thing. I was happy to let Moreira do the work. She’s experienced, knew what she was doing. I did have a few looks over the shoulder, because they were no point in pushing on, if we didn’t need to.”
Britton has come to Gothenburg as a final stop-off before the World Cross Country, set for Poland in three weeks time, but that’s not saying she won’t be making the absolute most of her final: “It is part of the preparation, yes, and I didn’t real train specifically for this. But it’s not like I’m going to do a 10-mile run this evening, thinking it’s all about the World Cross Country.
“And that I’m in the final, of course I’m going to give it a real go. I’ve to go away now and think about it, because really, I had to focus on the heat first.”
After winning her 800m heat yesterday, the 23-year-old Everard advanced following a photo-finish with Lenka Masna of the Czech Republic.
Rose Anne Galligan, however, was unable to progress. Despite a personal best of 2:02.84, she finished fifth in the first semi-final when needing a a top three to qualify.
Everard grabbed that third spot in the second semi with a time of 2:03.40, edging out strong-finisher Masna on the line by fractions of a second to qualify behind Ukrainian Nataliya Lupu and Russian winner Yelena Kotulskaya.
10:45 - 800mwomen’s final - Ciara Everard
11:10 - 3,000mwomen’s final - Fionnuala Britton
15:30 - 60mwomen’s (2 semi-finals) - Amy Foster
17:15 - 60mwomen’s final