Ireland women claim silver medal in 4x400m relay at European Athletics Championships

Sophie Becker, Rhasidat Adeleke, Phil Healy and Sharlene Mawdsley finish second behind the Netherlands, with Belgium in third

Ireland’s Rhasidat Adeleke, Phil Healy, Sophie Becker and Sharlene Mawdsley celebrate winning silver in Rome at the European Athletics Championships. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ireland’s 4x400m women’s relay team took a brilliant silver medal on the last night of the European Athletics Championships in the Stadio Olimpico, Rome.

Once the baton was passed to Sharlene Mawdsley starting the anchor leg in second place, it was clear another medal was most definitely on, with just the colour in the balance, and the Tipperary runner pushed the Netherlands’ Femke Bol to the limit down the home straight.

This silver makes it a record haul of four medals for Ireland in these championships – adding to the mixed relay gold, Ciara Mageean’s 1,500m gold, and Rhasidat Adeleke’s individual 400m silver – surpassing the three won in Budapest back in 1998, which included two golds for Sonia O’Sullivan.

After a thrilling final showdown, it was the star-loaded and formidable Dutch team, with the untouchable Bol running their anchor leg, who took gold in a time of 3:22.39. Then came the Irish quartet in 3:22.71, smashing the national record of 3:24.38 in the process, with Belgium claiming bronze in 3:22.95.

Ireland’s Rhasidat Adeleke, Phil Healy, Sophie Becker and Sharlene Mawdsley celebrate winning silver medals. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The Irish quartet again delivered in sensational style. Sophie Becker led out the team, running an excellent 52.00, passing the baton to Adeleke. She was racing for the fourth time in these championships and clocked the fastest split of the Irish – and second fastest of the night – with her 49.36 to take Ireland from fourth to first.

Adeleke handed over to Phil Healy on the third leg, and she clocked 51.51 and held on for second, before Mawdsley, racing for the fifth time this week, anchored the team home with another brilliant split time of 49.84, just short of Bol.

“It was rough, I won’t lie,” said Mawdsley, the 25-year-old from Newport in Co Tipperary adding to her gold in the mixed 4x400m relay, and a mighty reputation for her superpowers of recovery.

“I didn’t know if I was going to make that start line today, but the girls pushed me on, had every bit of trust in me, and when I know the team have that much trust in me, it’s just get that baton and run with what I have left.

“Honestly, I’m absolutely beyond exhausted at this point. I told myself the whole warmup, it was just one more lap. The legs are a little bit dead today but to win a medal, I’m so thankful.”

Ireland’s Sharlene Mawdsley after finishing second. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

It’s a third European medal this week for the 21-year-old Adeleke, adding to that gold in the mixed 4x400m relay, and her wonderful individual 400m silver from Monday night, where she set a stunning national record of 49.07 seconds.

“To get an individual medal was one thing,” Adeleke said, “but one thing I really wanted was the two relay medals. I just feel like we’ve deserved it so much, to go out there with the girls, and the guys earlier, and win a medal with the team.

“Ever since I went to Texas, I always emphasised how much I loved the team aspect, and just to have that same feeling again is so special for me, something I missed, it’s so much fun being out there together, and to able to achieve our goals together, nothing beats that.”

It brought obvious delight too for the 29-year-old Healy, the seasoned veteran of the quartet having first run these championships back in 2014: “It’s so special,” she said, “and everything has been blowing up, the amount of messages we’ve been receiving over the last few days. Obviously with the gold medal success of Ciara Mageean as well, and hopefully this inspires more young kids to take up the sport.

“I definitely contemplated retiring last summer many, many times, but this makes it all worth it.”

Ireland’s Rhasidat Adeleke and Sophie Becker celebrate winning silver medals. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

And for Becker, the 27-year-old from Wexford, it was just reward too for her unwavering commitment during some leaner years. “When I looked up and saw Sharlene neck and neck with Femke Bol, I just thought ‘it’s actually happening, I cannot believe it’. We’ve all waited years for this relay team to make the podium, and a 3:22 beside our name, it’s crazy, and very exciting for the summer ahead. The crowd, the Irish cheer, it was everything I dreamed of.”

For Bol, who on Tuesday night defended her 400m hurdles title in a championship record time of 52.49 seconds (also the fastest time in the world this year), there was further incentive as she was part of the mixed relay team that finished third behind Ireland.

Poland had called on the individual 400m champion Natalia Kaczmarek for their anchor leg, the 26-year-old who denied Adeleke gold on Monday night, but they had to settle for sixth spot.

Later, all eyes inside the Stadio Olimpico turned to reigning Olympic 1,500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen from Norway, who in utterly imperious style completed a third consecutive European 1,500m/5,000m double, winning from the front in a championship record of 3:31.95.

Andrew Coscoran finished back in 13th, in 3:34.76, while in the men’s 10,000m Efrem Gidey placed 12th in 28:16.94, with that gold medal going to Dominic Lobalu from Switzerland in 28:00.32.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics