Ciara Mageean among the best efforts of Irish athletes in Munich

Eleven Irish top-eight finishers in all, five more than the previous best of six, in 1998 and 2002

Together they raced the last two laps with tongues and eyeballs out and after crossing the line fell to the track and rolled around on the flat of their backs. Laura Muir first, Ciara Mageean second, in magnificently close order.

It’s just one of the shiveringly brilliant moments from the last seven days and nights inside Munich’s Olympiastadion, not just from an Irish point of view. No matter who won gold or who won silver last Friday night there could be no regrets after any best effort as complete as that.

Afterwards Muir described it as the hardest 1,500 metres final she’s ever raced, in part because it was her fourth championship final in five weeks – winning bronze for Great Britain at the World Championships in Oregon, then 800m bronze and 1,500 gold for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

For Mageean it was her finest championship performance yet, the 30-year-old from Portaferry overcoming a series of obstacles not just this season but over the seasons too, her second medal in the event to go with the bronze won back in 2016, fourth last time out too.


“I thought going up the home straight, maybe this would be my day,” Mageean told journalists afterwards, “but I sure as hell tried. I fell a little short of gold but I can’t be disappointed, I laid it all bare on the track.”

Which is all and everything any athlete wants at a major championship, medal contender or not. Ireland sent a large team of 38 athletes to Munich, three were forced to withdraw from their events due to injury, and by close of business had 11 top-eight finishers in all, five more than the previous best of six, in 1998 and 2002.

Two of those top-eight finishers went where no Irish athletes had gone before, Israel Olatunde announcing himself as the fastest Irishman in history on Tuesday night, still only 20 and the first Irishman to make the European 100 metres final, breaking the national record to finish sixth in 10.17 seconds. These best efforts were capped off on Sunday night by Mark English in the 800m, Efrem Gidey in the 10,000m, and Sarah Lavin in the 100m hurdles.

On Wednesday night Rhasidat Adeleke did it again, still only 19, finishing fifth in her 400m final despite running in lane one, lowering her own national record to 50.53 seconds. There are many measures of those two runs, the obvious ones being age and trajectory and the assumption their best is yet to come.

Adeleke arguably ran better again on Friday morning, her 49.49-second split on the third leg – in her 50th race of the season – helping bring team-mates Sophie Becker, Phil Healy and Sharlene Mawdsley into the final of the women’s 4x400m relay, running a national record of 3:26.06 to boot.

So on Saturday night they raced together and as one again in the final, this one just a small step too far and one race too many perhaps: they finished sixth of the eight teams, running 3:26.63, just shy of that Irish record.

Adeleke was now up to race number 51, repeatedly breaking Irish records going back to the start of the indoor season in January: “I couldn’t wait to be done, I was like, ‘one more lap, literally,’” she said. “I definitely felt the past rounds in my legs and I wanted to make sure I gave it my all regardless. We all gave it our best shot, there’s not much more you can ask for, hopefully we can grow and continue to progress.”

Adeleke took Ireland from seventh to fifth on her leg, Mawdsley later passed close to the line on the anchor leg by the German Carolina Krafzik. If this team is to progress and ultimately challenge for a medal there will need to be more depth and less reliance on Adeleke.

Up front a classic race unfolded between medal favourites the Dutch, Great Britain and defending champions Poland, all of whom had the advantage of bringing in fresh legs for the final, the Dutch calling on Femke Bol for their anchor leg, the individual winner on the 400m flat and 400m hurdles already. Bol duly delivered, the Dutch winning time some six seconds faster than Ireland in 3:20.87; Poland won silver in 3:21.60, Britain third in 3:21.74

Closing that gap in any sprint event at European level is one thing; closing it at World and Olympic level is another matter entirely, and therein lies part of the challenge for Athletics Ireland right now. Progression won’t be easy, nor will easing expectations on these sprinters as they reach to the global stage again at next summer’s World Championships in Budapest and ultimately the Paris Olympics, now less than two years away.

For other Irish athletes the challenge coming away from Munich is the same. Louise Shanahan ran another determined race in her 800m final on Saturday night, putting herself in contention in the middle of the eight-woman field as they rounded the fast first lap in 58.38 seconds, before fading from fifth to eighth down the backstretch. That’s where she finished, still clocking 2:01.64, one of the best times of her life, while Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson finally got the gold medal she craved, the 20 year-old pulling well clear down the homestretch to take the victory in 1:59.04.

“I wanted to put myself in a position where I was competing for a medal,” she said. “But I’ll take eighth in Europe, and hopefully next time I can challenge for a medal.”

At age 25 and coming into her prime there’s no reason to believe she can’t challenge next time out, although progress isn’t a given there either: Shanahan is also a PhD student in quantum physics at Cambridge, and getting to that next may require some re-evaluation of commitments too.

Which is where the good old funding question comes in: Athletics Ireland keep saying they only have so much money to give out, can’t help all of the athletes all of the time, still there needs to be some re-evaluation of how and where that money is spent.

For others it’s a different challenge again, 21-year-old Sarah Healy admittedly running well below her best in her 1,500m heat and part of the reason for that is psychological: there is no questioning Healy’s talent and ability, though she too must now re-evaluate how to make the most of it.

Thomas Barr was third time unlucky in not making the 400m hurdles final, missing out by one place same as Tokyo last year, as he did the medal podium in Rio. He was never going to match Karsten Warholm’s 47.12 winning time, though he may have looked at silver and bronze – won in 48.56 and 48.78 – and ask was that his last medal chance just gone?

Andrew Coscoran was ninth in a 1,500m final which Jakob Ingebrigtsen won in 3:32.76, three seconds faster than any previous European final. How Coscoran can ever close that gap is a question not just for him but almost every elite 1,500m runner in the world right now. Brian Fay finishing eighth in the 5,000m final behind Ingebrigtsen was certainly his best effort too, which is all and everything any athlete wants at a major championship.