Old stadium ready to inspire new generation

Wed, Jun 27, 2012, 01:00

ATHLETICS:THERE’S NO escaping the iconic Irish victories that come to mind on arrival at Helsinki’s old Olympic stadium – Eamonn Coghlan so defiant in 1983, Sonia O’Sullivan simply untouchable in 1994.

It’s possible these moments can help inspire the new generation of Irish athletes in action this week, although they may need to look them up on YouTube.

None of the 26 Irish athletes that have made the trip here this week were even born during Coghlan’s era, and the majority of them were just about walking when O’Sullivan took charge.

Indeed it is, on many levels, a new era – not just for Irish athletics, but for the sport in Europe as a whole. Whatever about the benefits of these European Athletics Championships going biennial they’re definitely playing support to the London Olympics, and little wonder many of the big faces are waiting for the headline act, just over five weeks away.

The condensed, five-day schedule here (no walks, no marathons) should work well from a spectator point of view, but only by Sunday evening will a clearer picture emerge of what exactly the 21st edition of these championships now represent.

Some events are unquestionably weakened by the absence of some leading names that have stayed away for no other reason than to save all their efforts for London – that includes Derval O’Rourke, who won the silver medal in the 100 metres hurdles in the last two editions of these championships – in Gothenburg in 2006 and Barcelona in 2010.

Would it be that if O’Rourke won a medal here it would somehow be less significant than her other two?

Or would it somehow demean what she’s won in the past, knowing how hard-earned and cherished those two medals are?

Would Sonia O’Sullivan feel the same about her five European medals, having added two more gold medals in 1998 and two silvers in 2002? It’s evitable that by diluting these championships some of the power and magic is lost, although that’s not saying that any medals will necessarily be easily won in Helsinki this week.

The depth of previous championships is certainly missing, but with Britain’s Mo Farah set to defend his 5,000 metres title this evening, and France’s Christophe Lemaitre out to defend both his sprint titles, the cream of European athletic talent will still be floating at the top.

Overall entries have actually held up well compared to previous championships, with 1,342 athletes (738 men, 604 women) from 50 countries – only the second time all 50 member federations are represented.

In the 40 events up for decision, 15 athletes are back to defend the titles won in Barcelona, and they all have big ambitions for London too.

Athletics Ireland, like most other federations, always knew that the conflicts with London would result in some defections – and O’Rourke is certainly not the only one.

High jumper Deirdre Ryan and distance runners Ciaran O Lionard and Alistair Cragg, have also decided to focus on London instead, although again, only time will tell the full ramifications of that decision so, of the seven of the 26 team members in action in today’s opening sessions, the only one with extensive experience at this level is Joanne Cuddihy.

Two years ago Cuddihy was slowly rediscovering her form after long-term injury, but she goes in this evening’s 400m with the sort of form that could see her all the way to the final.

Drawn in lane five, Cuddihy’s season best of 51.43 ranks her fastest of the eight, and reaching the semi-final should be a formality. The same perhaps for Brian Gregan, who is ranked second fastest in his heat of the men’s 400m, thanks to the 45.91 he ran earlier this month – and the 22- year-old from Tallaght also has final ambitions.

Both 400m hurdles heats will be interesting – with 19-year-old Thomas Barr making his major championship debut, drawn in lane five, and with every chance of making the semi-finals – later, his older sister Jessie goes in the second of four heats, drawn in the inside lane, but again in strong qualifying form.

Jason Harvey, still only 20, also goes in the last of the men’s heats, and although slowest ranked, can improve his best of 51.67.

The 100m heats will better reveal just how close Jason Smyth is likely to come to the London A-standard of 10.18, but the two-time Paralympics champion is ranked third fastest in his heat, and should at least make the semi-finals – with that task a little harder for Amy Foster in the women’s 100m heats.

Williams struggles to get spot

HIGH JUMP world champion Jesse Williams has made it to the London Games with a whimper rather than a bang when he finished a disappointing fourth at the US Olympic trials at Eugene, Oregon.

Williams missed three times at 2.31 metres after clearing 2.28 on his third attempt on a wet and cold day in Eugene, but clinched his spot on the American team because the third place finisher did not have the A qualifying standard.

The seemingly ageless Jamie Nieto won the competition at 2.28 in a reflection of the weather. The 35-year-old did not have a miss before failing three times at 2.31.

Five times national champion Nick Symmonds dominated the men’s 800 with front-running Alysia Montano claiming the women’s race.

Olympian Symmonds brought cheers from the hometown crowd when he sped home in one minute, 43.92 seconds. “I want to bring a medal back so badly,” said Symmonds, who was eliminated in the semi-finals at the 2008 Games.

Khadevis Robinson, like Nieto aged 35, nipped Duane Solomon by one-hundredth of a second for second place.

Montano, who runs with an artificial flower in her hair, won the women’s event in 1:59.08 ahead of Geena Gall and Alice Schmidt.

“The flower in my hair represents strength,” Montano said. “People look at women in sports differently. People say, ‘Oh she runs like a girl.’ And I just say, ‘Why the heck not run like a girl’?”

Former world champion Bernard Lagat easily qualified in the men’s 5,000. He trailed Lopez Lomong across the finish line with a time of 13:42.83.

The competition is on a break today, but resumes tomorrow and concludes on Sunday.

(all irish time)

7amLong Jump (W)

7.10amDec – 100m

7.45amShot Put (M)

8am100m (W) R1: Amy Foster

(North Down AC) SB 11.50;

PB 11.49

8.15amHigh Jump (W)

8.35am Dec – Long Jump (M)

8.50am400m hurdles (M) R1: Jason

Harvey (University of Ulster)

SB 51.67; PB 50.65; Thomas

Barr (Ferrybank AC)

SB 50.80; PB 50.06

9.40am100m (M) R1: Jason Smyth

(City of Derry AC) SB 10.24;

PB 10.22

10.15amDec – Shot Put (M)

10.25amTriple Jump (W)

11.35am400m (M) R1: Brian Gregan

(Clonliffe Harriers AC):

SB 45.91; PB 45.91

11.40amDec – High Jump (M)

11.45amJavelin (W) Q

12.30pm400m hurdles (W) R1 Jessie

Barr (Ferrybank AC)

SB 56.16; PB 56.16

1pmJavelin (W) Q

1.10pm800m (M) R1

3.50pm400m (W) R1 Joanne

Cuddihy (Kilkenny City

Harriers) SB 51.43; PB 50.73

4.10pmHigh Jump (M) Q

4.15pmJavelin (M) Q

4.30pm3,000m SC (M) R1

5.10pmDec – 400m (M)

5.40pm5,000m (M) Final

5.45pmJavelin (M) Q

6.05pm100m (W) SF

6.15pm100m (M) SF

On TVEurosport (7am–1.30pm,

3.45pm–7pm).

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