In-form Ó Lionáird and Gregan look serious contenders for honours
ATHLETICS:As relaxed and cool as they both seem about it, both Ciarán Ó Lionáird and Brian Gregan are now serious contenders for European Indoors honours here in Gothenburg, the gold medal itself well within their reach.
That they happen to be roommates in the Irish team hotel – suited directly above the Gothenburg’s Scandinavium Arena – has perhaps added to their mood, but Ó Lionáird, whose 3,000 metres final is first up this evening, is unquestionably in the form of his life.
“Well I just felt I’d a longer stride than most of those guys, and wanted to make the most of it,” he said of his finishing kick, which saw him win his heat in 7:55.12, displaying a burst of speed over the last lap that looked both brilliantly impressive and suitably comfortable.
“And I suppose for me, coming up from the 1,500m, it probably looked easy. But it was pretty controlled. Then I’ve been here since Monday, just been waiting around really, and having that race behind me will suit, should leave me feeling even better for the final.”
Truth is Ó Lionáird will have to run better again, with Hayle Ibrahimov, the former Ethiopian now representing Azerbaijan, running away with the second heat in 7:50.55, clearly a major challenger for the gold medal: “I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him stretch it out,” agreed Ó Lionáird. “But then I can only control my own race.”
Ó Lionáird, still only 24, has got himself back into superb physical shape. Despite his cruel experience in London, or perhaps because of it, he now sports the Olympic rings, tattooed onto his left shoulder blade, and a Native American Indian Chief on his right shoulder. He still brings an old-school approach to the game, still revealing (or often tweeting) his carefree attitude, which he feels sits comfortably with his deadly seriousness.
Gregan, at age 23, shares this attitude, which also disguises a ruthless competitive streak. He won his 400m heat, the first of four, in 46.97, the only concern with that being his easing up before the line, which nearly cost him one of the automatic qualifying places.
Gregan must now deal with this afternoon’s semi-finals, before thinking about a medal, and probably drew the easier of the two. Starting in the favourable outside lane, he faces reigning European outdoor champion Pavel Maslak, who won his heat in 46.54, but has avoided the British number one Richard Strachan, and the Russian danger man Pavel Trenikhin.
“I went out in the first round in Paris, two years ago,” added Gregan, “so that’s already my best indoor championship performance. I’ll be treating the semi-final exactly the same, making sure I do everything right . . .”
No such joy for Stephen Scullion, who bravely tried to make the 3,000m final alongside Ó Lionáird, but was just run out of it – his 8:00.78 losing out by one place. John Travers finished a very tired looking 11th in his heat, clocking 8:23.83. Clare Tarplee ran well in her 1,500 metre heat, clocking 4:15.16 for fourth, but outside qualification as was Tori Pena (pole vault) who only managed to clear the entry height of 4.16m.
11:25 - 3,000m (2 heats) - Fionnuala Britton
12:35 - 60m (4 heats) - Amy Foster
15:55 - 400m men’s (2 semi finals) – Brian Gregan
16:30 - 800m women’s (2 semi finals) - Ciara Everard, Rose Anne Galligan
17:10 - 3,000m final - Ciarán Ó Lionáird
10:45 - 800m women’s final
11:00 - 400m men’s final
11:10 - 3,000m women’s final
15:30 - 60m women’s (2 semi finals)
17:15 - 60m women’s final