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European Athletics Championships: How Ireland’s historic week in Rome unfolded

Four-medal haul ensures Ireland finish the championships in 10th place – ahead of continental superpowers like Germany and Sweden

Ciara Mageean celebrates winning the Women's 1500m final at the European Athletics Championships at the Stadio Olympico, Rome. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Every major sporting event is shaped in some way by what has gone before.

In the 90-year history of the European Athletics Championships, first staged in Turin in 1934, no Irish team could ever have aspired to breaking into the top 10 nations on the final medal table, certainly not ahead of some continental superpowers such as Germany and Sweden.

Yet that’s how they finished in Rome, sitting pretty in 10th position among the 48 competing nations (with only 27 of them winning a medal of some colour) after the six long days and even longer nights of action inside the old Stadio Olimpico.

Two gold medals, and two silver, neatly spread between two relay and two individual events, made for Irish athletics history in another way. The four-medal haul surpassed the three won in Budapest back in 1998, which included two individual golds for Sonia O’Sullivan (a 5,000m-10,000m double) and a bronze for Mark Carroll in the 5,000m.


In truth, none of the four Irish medals could be considered surprising, or as some kind of upset, given they were delivered on the back of the athletes’ own expectations.

Ireland’s medal success here was gloriously wrapped up in another national record when on Wednesday night, after the four hectic laps of the women’s 4x400m relay, the team of Sophie Becker, Rhasidat Adeleke, Phil Healy and Sharlene Mawdsley won their superb silver medal, taking a full 1.7 seconds off their previous mark.

The Irish quartet were only beaten by the reigning world champions, as the Dutch star Femke Bol ran the anchor leg to strike gold in a European leading time of 3:22.39, before the Irish quartet finished in 3:22.71, smashing their Irish record of 3:24.38.

That added to the mixed relay gold won by Chris O’Donnell, Adeleke, Thomas Barr and Mawdsley on the opening night last Friday, Ciara Mageean’s 1,500m gold on the Sunday night and Adeleke’s individual 400m silver on the Monday night.

While hosts Italy made the most of their home advantage, winning 24 medals in all to top that final medal table (including 11 gold, six more than their previous best in Split back in 1990), Ireland finished just behind Poland and Spain, and ahead of Sweden (11th) and Germany (12th), who once upon a time dominated these championships.

That’s quite a fall from grace for Germany, who finished second behind Great Britain when they hosted the last championships in Munich two years ago.

There were three Irish records in all (in that mixed relay, the women’s relay, and Adeleke’s scorching 49.07 seconds in the 400m), along with 12 season’s bests and three further personal bests.

Adeleke claimed three medals over the week, the 21-year-old sprinter continuing her meteoric rise through the sport, two years after first competing on this stage and finishing fifth in the 400m final.

“To get an individual medal was one thing,” Adeleke said of her second relay effort, “but one thing I really wanted was the two relay medals. It’s so much fun being out there together, and to able to achieve our goals together, nothing beats that.”

She lost to Natalia Kaczmarek from Poland in the individual race, who improved her lifetime best by over half a second to break through the 49-second barrier for the first time, winning in a sensational 48.98 seconds.

The two fastest European women’s 400m times this century are now Kaczmarek’s 48.98 and Adeleke’s⁩ 49.07 run here in Rome on that Monday night, further evidence if needed of the quality of race which unfolded.

On Sunday night, Mageean displayed remarkable patience and experience to strike for 1,500m gold, a medal some 20 years in the making since she first took up athletics as a youngster in Portaferry.

It was a third European medal for Mageean, the first Irish athlete to complete the set of gold (2024), silver (2022), and bronze (2016).

Mageean produced an absolute tactical masterclass to hit the front only when it mattered most, winning in 4:04.66 seconds ahead of Britain’s Georgia Bell. So, exactly 48 hours after the mixed 4x400m relay team gold, she became only the second individual gold medal winner for Ireland, O’Sullivan previously winning three gold medals in all, those two from 1998, and 3,000m gold in 1994.

Few Irish athletes have been more dedicated to the big championship stage over the last decade than the 32-year-old who, from her highly successful junior days, was tipped by some to follow in the footsteps of O’Sullivan.

Mageean rightly paid tribute to the Irish support which was heard throughout the six days and nights too: “And to look around this stadium, and there’s always tricolours, and to know these people are spending their hard-earned cash to come here and cheer us on and knowing how much it means to them, it fills my heart with joy.”

Irish success on the European stage has been fleeting over the years, and it was certainly a rarity for any major championships to begin not with the question of who can win a medal, but who will win one first? That answer soon came with the mixed 4x400m relay.

Critically, the inclusion of both Adeleke and Mawdsley was influenced by the fact both had a bye into the individual 400m semi-finals on the Sunday evening. Both women had been central to the team which secured the bronze medals and Olympic qualification at last month’s world Relays in the Bahamas.

Everyone knows the Paris Olympics will be a completely different competitive arena, but for the next European Athletics Championships, set for Birmingham in 2026, anything less than four Irish medals might be seen as a disappointment.

Some measure of where the country lies on the European stage now.

Ireland’s Record Breakers

Gold – Mixed 4x400 (Christopher O’Donnell, Rhasidat Adeleke, Thomas Barr, Sharlene Mawdsley)

Gold – 1500m Ciara Mageean

Silver – 400m Rhasidat Adeleke

Silver – Women’s 4x400 (Sophie Becker, Rhasidat Adeleke, Phil Healy, Sharlene Mawdsley)

National Records – (Mixed Relay, Women’s Relay, Rhasidat Adeleke)

Personal Bests – 3

Season’s Bests -12

How all the Irish athletes fared in Rome

(NR is National Record, SB is Season’s Best)

Ciara Mageean

Event: 1,500m

Overall ranking: 1

Time: 4:04.66

Mixed 4x400m Relay

Overall ranking: 1

Time: 3:09.92 (NR/CR)

Rhasidat Adeleke

Event: 400m

Overall ranking: 2

Time: 49.07 (NR)

Women 4x400m Relay

Overall ranking: 2

Time: 3:22.71 (NR)

Sarah Lavin

Event: 100mH

Overall ranking: 7

Time: 12.94 (12.73 SB in semi-final)

Sarah Healy

Event: 1500m

Overall ranking: 7

Time: 4:06.77

Sharlene Mawdsley

Event: 400m

Overall ranking: 8

Time: 51.59

Nicola Tuthill

Event: Hammer Throw

Overall ranking: 9

Distance: 69.09m

Sophie Becker

Event: 400m

Overall ranking: 10

Time: 51.54

Men 4x400m Relay

Overall ranking: 10

Time: 3:04.41 (SB)

Efrem Gidey

Event: 10,000m

Overall ranking: 12

Time: 28:16.94

Andrew Coscoran

Event: 1500m

Overall ranking: 13

Time: 3:34.76

Men 4x100m Relay

Overall ranking: 13

Time: 39.34 (SB)

Brian Fay

Event: 5000m

Overall ranking: 14

Time: 13:29.48

Eric Favors

Event: Shot Put

Overall ranking: 14

Time: 19.60m

Mark Smyth

Event: 200m

Overall ranking: 16

Time: 20.86 (SB)

Thomas Barr

Event: 400mH

Overall ranking: 16

Time: 49.61 (49.31SB in Heats)

Jodie McCann

Event: 5000m

Overall ranking: 17

Time: 15:29.25 (PB)

Israel Olatunde

Event: 100m

Overall ranking: 19

Time: 10.40 (10.31 SB in Heats)

Anika Thompson

Event: 10,000m

Overall ranking: 20

Time: 33:19.42

Oisin Lane

Event: 20km Walk

Overall ranking: 23

Time: 1:25:02

Michelle Finn

Event: 3000mSC

Overall ranking: 24

Time: 9:46.93 (SB)

Chris O’Donnell

Event: 400m

Overall ranking: 24*

*Semi-final DQ, 45.69 SB in Heats

Mark English

Event: 800m

Overall ranking: 25

Time: 1:46.73

Laura Mooney

Event: 10,000m

Overall ranking: 26

Time: 34:13.15

Phil Healy

Event: 200m

Overall ranking: 27

Time: 23.51

Brian Fay

Event: 10,000m

Overall ranking: 27

Time: 28:40.53

Nick Griggs

Event: 1500m

Overall ranking: 28

Time: 3:46.66

Louise Shanahan

Event: 800m

Overall ranking: 28

Time: 2:04.81

Kelly McGrory

Event: 400mH

Overall ranking: 31

Time: 57.10 (PB)

Barry Keane

Event: 10,000m

Overall ranking: 31

Time: 28:53.34

Peter Lynch

Event: 10,000m

Overall ranking: 32

Time: 29:02.00

Shona Heaslip

Event: Half Marathon

Overall ranking: 34

Time: 1:12:19 (SB)

Cormac Dalton

Event: 10,000m

Overall ranking: 35

Time: 29:15.30 (SB)

Hiko Tonosa

Event: Half Marathon

Overall ranking: 43

Time: 1:05:42

Emily Haggard Kearney

Event: Half Marathon

Overall ranking: 64

Time: 1:17:04

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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