Africans go the distance for European glory
ATHLETICS:Gothenburg after dawn, the bright light illuminating the double-track tram lines, the Ferris wheel at Liseburg amusement park off in the distance, the cycle lanes neatly lined alongside the old, cobbled pavements.
There’s a pace and cleansed air about the place that is distinctly European, the dress code and elegance emanating its special Nordic nuance. Whatever crisis has gripped other parts of Europe in recent years never reached this far north, even if 20 year-old Volvos still sit alongside newer models.
Gothenburg still has the Scandinavian prices to prove it too, almost the entire Irish Times budget for this trip blown on our first evening meal at Joe Farelli’s, an Italian-American diner, on Kungsportsavenyn – where myself and two photographers each paid 240 kronor (€28) for a small burger, plus 75 kronor (€9) for a medium beer. We’d paid to have our jackets checked on the way in, too, and briefly debated the cost-benefit of walking back to our budget hotel without them.
Luckily, we’ve been kept busy from the go – the opening sessions already setting up one of the more memorable weekends for Irish athletics. Derval O’Rourke came daringly close to turning back the clock last night, falling just short of another major championship medal, and now Brian Gregan looks poised to follow in the footsteps of David Gillick and win a European Indoor 400 metres title. Gregan I know will be perfectly happy to win a medal of any colour, which I really hope he does.
Yet without disguising whatsoever my distance running bias, the race with truly explosive potential is the final of the men’s 3,000 metres – where Ciarán Ó Lionáird is looking to follow in the footsteps of fellow Cork athlete Mark Carroll, who also won this title, in 2000, beating a class field in the process, as did Alistair Cragg, the brilliant winner of 2005.
The problem for Ó Lionáird is that when the gun fires on his final, he’ll have the company of an Ethiopian, a Kenyan, and a Moroccan – all now disguised under various European flags. The biggest danger looks like being Hayle Ibrahimov, who ran away with his heat in 7:50.55, five seconds faster than Ó Lionáird’s winning time in his heat. Formerly Haile Desta Hagos, the 23- year-old was born and raised in Ethiopia, before transferring to Azerbaijan in time for the 2010 European Championships, in Barcelona, where he won the bronze medal in the 5,000m.
Ibrahimov also won the 3,000m silver medal at the last edition of these championships, in Paris two years ago, behind Britain’s Mo Farah – an athlete himself born and raised in Somalia, but who came to his adopted country at a much younger age.