Meet the medallists: The Irish athletes who made European Championship history

How the careers of Ciara Mageean, Rhasidat Adeleke, Sharlene Mawdsley, Thomas Barr and Chris O’Donnell led to golden success


What a golden 48 hours for Irish athletics. On Sunday night inside the Stadio Olimpico, Ciara Mageean showed remarkable patience and experience to strike 1,500m gold and join the Irish mixed 4x400m relay team of Chris O’Donnell, Rhasidat Adeleke, Thomas Barr and Sharlene Mawdsley as only the third gold medal winner for Ireland in the now 90-year history of the European Athletics Championships – Sonia O’Sullivan previously winning three gold medals in all, one in 1994 and two in 1998.

Mageean and the Irish relay quartet also joined the elite list which previously numbered only 10 individual names in all, this being a second European medal for Barr after the bronze won over the 400m hurdles in 2018, and a third for Mageean, the first Irish athlete to complete the European set of gold, silver, and bronze.

Ciara Mageean: 1,500m, City of Lisburn AC, Coach Helen Clitheroe

Few Irish athletes have been more dedicated to the big championship stage over the last decade than the 32-year-old from Portaferry, Mageean’s popularity ample evidence too of her ferocious competitive spirit.

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From her highly successful junior days, Mageean was tipped by some to follow in the footsteps of Sonia O’Sullivan, something she always considered a great honour, though that certainly created an extra layer of expectation. She’s also endured plenty of setbacks, including a severe foot injury when coming out of the junior ranks, her late coach Jerry Kiernan carefully nurturing her through that difficult period.

But Mageean came to Rome knowing already exactly what was required to battle onto that medal podium, vastly experienced over the three and three-quarter lap distance, winning silver two years ago in Munich, and bronze back in 2016. She also knew what it’s like to miss out, finishing in fourth place back in 2018 behind Britain’s Laura Muir.

In Rome, Mageean produced a masterpiece of tactical middle distance running, kicking for gold down the home stretch, winning in 4:04.66 seconds ahead of Britain’s Georgie Bell.

Now based in Manchester with the New Balance training group, Mageean also boasts a European Indoor bronze from Glasgow in 2019, a Commonwealth Games silver for Northern Ireland from 2022, and a World Under-20 Championships silver from back in 2010 – all over the 1,500m distance, making her the second most decorated Irish distance runner of all time behind O’Sullivan.

Sharlene Mawdsley: 4x400m relay, Newport AC, Coach Gary Ryan

Mawdsley’s own one-lap runs in the Bahamas last month had been a telltale sign of things to come in Rome, the native of Newport, county Tipperary anchoring both the mixed and women’s 4x400m relay teams to Olympic qualification, and then bronze medals in the mixed final.

Her brilliant 49.40-second anchor leg on Friday helped ensure Ireland won gold this time.

Later last month the 25-year-old secured her individual 400-metre qualifying spot for the Paris Olympics, improving her best from 51.09 to 50.72 when winning at the Memoriał Janusza Kusocinskiego meeting in Chorzow, Poland.

Her time of 50.72 was well inside the 50.95 automatic mark for Paris, and it also moved Mawdsley to number two on the Irish all time list behind Adeleke and ahead of former Irish record holder Joanne Cuddihy, previously the only other Irish woman to have run under 51 seconds, with her previous Irish record of 50.73 seconds from 2007.

It’s just reward too for her coach Gary Ryan, Tipperary’s two-time Olympian in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, who took Mawdsley under his wing in 2018 at a time when she was in danger of drifting away from the sport completely.

A graduate of the University of Limerick, her motivation for Rome was always clear after being harshly disqualified from the World Indoors in Glasgow in March. Last year in Budapest, she was a World semi-finalist over 400m, and helped the mixed 4x400m and women’s 4x400m to reach both finals there.

Thomas Barr: 4x400m relay, Ferrybank AC, Coach Hayley and Drew Harrison

If Barr was already touching on legendary status in Irish athletics, his gold medal in Rome surely seals it. He turns 32 next month, two days before the Paris Olympics begin, and it’s now eight years since the man from Dunmore East in Waterford ran the still fastest 400m hurdles time of his life, 47.97 seconds, to finish fourth in the Rio Olympics – just .05 off bronze.

Two years later, Barr won bronze at the 2018 European Championships in Berlin. Since then his luck could be politely described as lousy. At the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021, he clipped a hurdle late on and missed the final by one place, still running 48.26, the second fastest time of his life.

At the last European Championships in Munich, he also missed the final by one place. Then last July, a week after winning his 11th national title in Santry, he tore a calf muscle, forcing his withdrawal from what would have been his fifth successive World Championships in Budapest.

For Tokyo, he focused on the hurdles only, having helped the mixed relay qualify, but this season recommitted to the mixed relay ahead of the World Relays in the Bahamas last month. His split on the third leg last Friday night of 44.90 was the fastest of his life.

“It is still in the back of my mind that this could be my last season,” he said before coming to Rome. “But I am also using it as fuel, to do everything I can to be in the best position I can...go out with a bang kind of thing.”

Rhasidat Adeleke: 4x400m relay, Tallaght AC, Coach Edrick Floreal

After breaking practically every Irish sprint record in the junior ranks, Adeleke promptly went about breaking senior records too, running 49.20 for the 400m this time last year to win the esteemed NCAA title when still only 20, as well as being the fastest Irish woman over 200m and 400m.

She first made her sprinting name with Tallaght AC, and in 2017, at age 14, won a junior sprint double at the Irish Schools championships for Presentation College, Terenure.

Born in Dublin, her parents Ade and Prince moving here from Nigeria, she enrolled at the University of Texas in 2021, and just last month graduated with a degree in Corporate Communications

Before she went about breaking American collegiate records, she won a series of underage medals, including at the European Under-20 Championships in Tallinn in 2021 (100m and 200m gold medal), the European Youth Olympics in Baku in 2019 (100m and 200m gold medal), and at the European Under-18 Championships in Gyor in 2018 (200m gold medal).

She now has professional contract with Nike, and at the World Relays in the Bahamas last month, ran the fastest ever World Relay split in a women’s race of 48.45 seconds to help Ireland win bronze medals in the mixed relay, before adding her first senior gold medal here.

Chris O’Donnell: 4x400m relay, North Sligo AC, Coach Stewart Marshall

From the small hamlet of Grange, county Sligo, also home to Olympic swimmer Mona McSharry, O’Donnell has rediscovered his best 400m form this season after injury stalled some of his progress last year.

Now 26, he’s already a five-time Irish champion in the 400m, having started out in sport playing for a number of different soccer clubs, including Benbulben FC and in the Sligo-Leitrim Youth Schoolboys League.

He was encouraged to try athletics after his natural speed was noted on the soccer pitch and he soon made one-lap running his priority from the age of 16, setting an Irish under-20 record of 46.54 seconds when finishing sixth in the European Under-20 Championships in 2017

His personal best now of 45.26 seconds sits joint second on the Irish all time list behind David Gillick. O’Donnell is still based at Loughborough University in England, where he graduated with a degree in Sport and Exercise Science on a sports scholarship.

At the Tokyo Olympics, he was part of the 4x400m mixed relay that made the final, and just over 12 hours after helping Ireland win the gold medal on Friday night, and by his own admission with only one hour’s sleep, he came out on Saturday morning a ran a season best of 45.69 in the individual 400m to make that semi-final.

European Athletics Championships - Ireland’s medal winners

1958: Ronnie Delany, 1500m, bronze - 3.42.3

1969: Frank Murphy, 1500m, silver - 3.39.51

1978: Eamonn Coghlan, 1500m, silver - 3.36.57

1994: Sonia O’Sullivan, 3,000m, gold - 8.31.84

1998: Mark Carroll, 5,000m, bronze 13.38.15

1998: Sonia O’Sullivan, 5,000m, gold - 15.06.50

1998: Sonia O’Sullivan, 10,000m, gold - 31.29.33

2002: Sonia O’Sullivan, 5,000m, silver - 15.14.85

2002: Sonia O’Sullivan, 10,000m, silver - 30.47.59

2006: Derval O’Rourke, 100m hurdles, silver - 12.72

2010: Derval O’Rourke, 100m hurdles, silver - 12.65

2010: Robert Heffernan, 20km walk, bronze - 1.21.00

2014: Mark English, 800m, bronze - 1.45.03

2016: Ciara Mageean, 1500m, bronze - 4.33.78

2018: Thomas Barr, 400m hurdles, bronze - 48.31

2022: Ciara Mageean, 1500m, silver - 4.02.56

2022: Mark English, 800m, bronze - 1.45.19

2024: Chris O’Donnell, Rhasidat Adeleke, Thomas Barr and Sharlene Mawdsley, 4x400m, gold - 3.09.92

2024: Ciara Mageean, 1,500m, gold - 4.04.66