Ireland win gold in 4x400m mixed relay at European Athletics Championships

Team of Chris O’Donnell, Rhasidat Adeleke, Thomas Barr and Sharlene Mawdsley finish top in Rome

Ireland’s Chris O’Donnell, Rhasidat Adeleke, Sharlene Mawdsley and Tom Barr celebrate winning a gold medal. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The final baton exchange was so sweetly executed that from there the gold medal was always bang on, Sharlene Mawdsley then making sure of it with another stunning anchor leg to make it a magnificent winning night for the Irish quartet in the mixed 4x400m relay at the European Championships.

The old Stadio Olimpico in Rome certainly was not anywhere near capacity on this opening night, only the atmosphere soared brilliantly during this showdown, the first track final of the week, as Ireland struck gold in another Irish record of 3:09.92, a brilliantly exciting race won in extraordinary style.

Things didn’t exactly unfold as planned, Mawdsley tearing past the Italian rival Alice Mangione and Helena Ponette from Belgium down the homestretch, Italy holding on for a surprise silver in 3:10.69, Mawdsley’s 400m split of 49.40 the second fastest of the night, as Dutch star Femke Bol came past Belgium on the line to snatch bronze in 3:10.73.

No surprise though where this neatly combined medal challenge truly started, Rhasidat Adeleke blitzing another second leg to put the Ireland in pole position at that point, slitting 49.53 and moving Ireland from fourth to first in the first 200m before Thomas Barr kept his cool on the third leg to keep Ireland in medal-winning touch.

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Barr ran a brilliant 44.90, passed only World Indoor 400m champion Alexander Doom from Belgium, who ran the third leg, before passing off to Helena Ponette for their anchor leg.

Only Sonia O’Sullivan had ever won a gold medal for Ireland in the European Athletics Championships before this.

Such is the exceptionally rare talent of the 21-year-old Dublin sprinter, Adeleke’s decision to join the mixed relay here in Rome immediately put Ireland in medal-winning territory. Of the straight eight-team final, Ireland started ranked second fastest this season behind the Dutch, and without Adeleke that would have looked very different.

Rhasidat Adeleke passes the baton to teammate Thomas Barr of Team Ireland during the 4x400 Metres Mixed Relay Final. Photograph: Mattia Ozbot/Getty

The Irish quartet also join the super-elite list of Irish medal winners, only 10 individual names in all, in the now 90-year-history of these championships – this being a second European medal for Barr after the bronze won over the 400m hurdles in 2018.

The Dutch quartet had also finished just .08 of a second ahead of them at the World Relays in the Bahamas a month ago, where Ireland won bronze in a then national record of 3:11.53.

Ireland started out of lane seven, entering the arena appearing suitably confident and relaxed. Chris O’Donnell opened the now obligatory man-woman-man-woman running order, clocking 46.09, three of which helped secure the bronze medals and Olympic qualification at last month’s World Relays in the Bahamas. (Cillín Greene, who ran the first leg in the Bahamas, decided to focus on Paris).

That critical inclusion of both Adeleke and Mawdsley was influenced by the fact both have a bye into the individual 400m semi-finals on Sunday evening (7.05pm Irish time), that final then set for just over 24 hours later on Monday evening (8.50pm).

That reputation to dazzle and excite also now precedes Adeleke, her split time of 48.45 seconds in the Bahamas last month the fastest ever recorded at the World Relays.

That was Adeleke’s first senior championship medal, and Rome presents the chance of a couple more, given she’s also expected to be among the women’s 4x400m relay come next Wednesday’s closing session.

Earlier, Israel Olatunde nailed third place in his opening heat of the 100m, his 10.31 seconds, a season best for the 22-year-old, plenty good to see him through to Saturday’s semi-finals, although he’ll likely need to break his Irish record of 10.17 seconds to progress from there.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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