Sophie O’Sullivan takes gold in thrilling 1,500m final at European Under-23 Championships

Sonia O’Sullivan’s daughter holds off challenge from Sarah Healy as Ireland earn a brilliant 1-2 in Espoo, Finland

Sophie O’Sullivan out-kicked Sarah Healy to win a thrilling 1,500 metres final at the European Under-23 Championships in Espoo, Finland. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

One glorious race, two magnificent Irish medals, and for Sophie O’Sullivan a mildly delightful surprise in out-kicking Sarah Healy to win a thrilling 1,500 metres on the final day of the European Under-23 Championships.

A first gold medal for Ireland at this grade, O’Sullivan and Healy had come to Espoo, Finland ranked first and second in the event, only Healy was some seven seconds faster than anyone.

Intent on making it fast, she led all the way until the final bend, before O’Sullivan unleashed her finishing kick all so reminiscent of her mother Sonia and her medal wins on the Olympic, World and European stage, the first of those won not far away in Helsinki.

For O’Sullivan, the 21-year-old currently attending the University of Washington, the gold medal also came with a new lifetime best of 4:07.18, Healy never giving up the chase and nailing silver in 4:07.36. Britain’s Shannon Flockhart won bronze in 4:08.37.


“It feels fantastic,” said O’Sullivan, who back in 2018, won silver over 800m at Under-18 level. “I was second five years ago so it’s good to get the gold. The big thing for me was staying as close as possible on the third lap as I tend to get distracted mid-race. It’s great to do it with Sarah and to go one-two for Ireland too”.

At 22, and with three European underage medals already to her name, including double gold in 2018, Healy unquestionably went all out to win: “I’m disappointed, obviously,” she said. “Coming in ranked number one, it’s disappointing to finish below that but if someone was to beat me, I’m glad it was Sophie. It’s special for Ireland to get two medals so I’m really glad to be part of that.”

Ireland’s Sarah Healy took silver in 4:07.36. Photograph: Sasa Pahic Szabo/Inpho

Before Espoo, the Irish medal haul at this grade had been relatively light – nine in all, beginning with James Nolan’s silver over 800m back in 1999. The first Irish medals in Espoo, their one-two was reminiscent of Colin Costello and Danny Darcy winning gold and silver over 1,500m at the European Under-20 Championships back in 2005.

Healy switched coaches this season, training now with the Trevor Painter group in Wigan, which includes British 800m star Keely Hodgkinson; O’Sullivan, coached by Mauricia Powell at Washington, still has another year in college, both athletes however are now very much in the running for the Paris Olympics.

Earlier, Abdel Laadjel was just outside the medals in the 10,000m, fourth in a race equally stacked with rising European stars. The Dublin runner finished in 29:23.33 having come into the race ranked 15th.

There were medal hopes too for Cian McPhillips in the 800m, the 21-year-old from Longford ending up seventh, running 1:48.04, the gold there going to Yanis Meziane of France in 1:45.92.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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