Sarah Lavin still searching for that magic medal moment in Rome

The now 30-year-old from Limerick first took to this stage in Zurich 10 years ago

Ireland’s Sarah Lavin is in action in Rome. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

It is only telling and right that Sarah Lavin in no way ducks the question of what it will take to win a medal. In her event, the 100 metres hurdles, it’s all about absolute precision to begin with, and few athletes understand that better now than Lavin herself.

And just because these European Athletics Championships, which get under way inside the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Friday morning, also run close to the Paris Olympics in July, doesn’t mean medals will be any easier won, or indeed less cherished.

“I reckon you’ll have to be in the 12.50s,” says Lavin. “Ultimately, that is what you want to do, but doing things is very, very different. You need those moments where absolutely everything goes right, and you have absolute precision.”

To run in the 12.50s, Lavin will have to run faster than she’s ever done before. It’s not yet a year since she took down Derval O’Rourke’s 13-year-old Irish record, at the World Championships in Budapest last August, when she clocked 12.62 seconds in her semi-final, improving the 12.65 O’Rourke set when winning the silver medal at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona.


For Lavin, born on the same day as O’Rourke, 13 years apart, that also fulfilled her many superstitions around the 100m hurdles record. A few weeks later, Lavin completed that rare double of national records with her 11.27 clocking in Switzerland, eclipsing the 100m flat mark of 11.28 which had stood to Phil Healy since 2018.

Of the 17 medals Ireland has won in the history of these European Championships, which began in Turin in 1934, five have been won in the last 10 years, with Ciara Mageean (1,500m bronze in 2016, then silver in 2022), Mark English (800m bronze in 2014, and again in 2022), and Thomas Barr (400m hurdles bronze in 2018) all looking to add to their collection.

For Lavin, who turned 30 last month and finished fifth in Munich two years ago, there is some added confidence after winning a bronze medal at the European Games in Poland last summer, even if that was a time trial of sorts.

“No athlete should come on here and tell you that they shouldn’t want a medal,” she says. “We want to medal for ourselves, for our coaches, for our families, for all of the Irish contingent that have been absolutely incredible.

“I made my first European Championships team in 2014, 10 years ago now, which is mad. And I was obviously incredibly young at that point, but I would have to say that this is probably the strongest team that I have been a part of.”

Sarah Lavin made a perfect start to her season in Doha last month, clocking 12.73 to finish fifth in the 100m hurdles. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The Limerick sprinter also made a perfect start to her season in Doha last month, clocking 12.73 to finish fifth in the 100m hurdles, before hitting the deck just after the line.

“Yeah, to run 12.73 in May is lightning quick, my quickest ever opener was 13.08 before and to run 12.73, Noelle [Morrissey, her coach] probably expected it but I was probably hoping, I don’t know what I was hoping for, but I thought that would have been romantic of me, to be wishing for it beforehand.

“To throw out an Olympic standard on your opener is fairly impressive and it enabled us to be able to train and pick our competitions.

“And I’m very fortunate with the programming, that the hurdles is the first day in Rome, the first and second day, and it’s not until the last days in Paris so I effectively have two months between the championships which is good. I think training has gone really well, the big thing is staying injury-free, healthy and very competitively ranked going into these championships.

“I just need to put out a clean round. Obviously I get to skip the heat, being ranked in the top 12, which is a box tick that I’ve fortunately done now before I even get there. So I’ll go straight into the semi-final [on Saturday] and I need a clean race and get a lane in the final.”

The mixed 4x400m relay, a straight final on Friday evening, may well offer the first chance of an Irish medal, only for Lavin, the hopes and plans are to not to be too far behind on Saturday.

She’s ranked fifth of the final entries in Rome, all of whom have run in the 12.50s, or faster, this season: “You’re looking at my main competitors and there’s literally Cyréna [Samba-Mayela, from France], Pia [Skrzyszowska, from Poland], [Ditaji] Kambundji [from Switzerland] ... but there’s a few other girls, but two different Europeans have won the last two Diamond Leagues and another was has a third.

“It’s going to require a really, really big performance, as always, but first things first, you can’t get ahead of yourself. Medals require very special people to produce very special performances. There are a lot of special people on the team, but we need those magic moments.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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