Gregan taps in to strength to make 400m final

 

ATHLETICS: EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPSWHEN THREE men turned into the home stretch neck and neck, Brian Gregan took a deep breath, eased his foot on the accelerator, and drove it home. It mightn’t have been the perfect ride but it got him into a European 400 metres final – and that’s good enough for now.

“Yeah, I knew exactly what I was doing,” said the big man from Tallaght, who at 22, has fast matured into one of Europe’s best one-lap runners.

This evening’s final now offers him the chance to make history.

No Irishman has ever medalled in this event, and someone who won’t need reminding of that is David Gillick – the Irish record holder perhaps still haunted by how close he came in Barcelona just two years ago.

With Gillick reduced to a relay leg in these championships, Gregan has certainly grabbed the baton: what unfolds this evening mightn’t be the strongest final in the history of these championships, although it may well prove the closest – and Gregan is definitely among the medal contenders.

He did have to settle for second place in his semi-final, clocking 45.76 behind the 45.66 that gave Pavel Maslek of the Czech Republic the win. Crucially, Gregan held off Janis Leitis of Latvia, who equalled his national record of 45.88 yet still missed a place in the final – as only the top two from the three semi-finals went through, plus the two fastest losers.

“I knew the Latvian was there, made sure to put some pressure on him, then pull through, no problem,” Gregan added. “I got out okay. Not as fast as my heat, but then conditions were a little bit rougher, a bit of rain before the start, and that bit colder standing around.

“I just got myself in contention with 150 to go, and my strength then is my strength. So happy days, into the final, and my second fastest time ever. I’m starting to show consistency as well. And I think there is more there. We’ll see. I’ll probably go out a little bit faster in the final, and just see what happens. All I can do is go for it.”

The final sets off at 7.25pm (Irish time), and along with Maslek, Marco Vistalli of Italy and the Hungarian Marcell Deak-Nagy have the confidence of winning their semi-finals, all eight finalists must consider themselves medal contenders. Gregan will also have one eye on that 45.30 A-standard for London.

Also looking forward to a first European Championship final, at age 34, is Stephanie Reilly, the sole Irish entrant in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase, who eased into tomorrow’s final by running the second fastest time of her career, 9:44.15. That was good enough for sixth in her heat – and just two seconds off her lifetime best of last year, which also qualified her for London.

“The goal was always to get into the final, at the same time focus on my own race. As long as I stuck to my own pace I always knew I had a chance. I stuttered a little on the last lap, and if it wasn’t for that I might have broken 9:40.”

The former 400m hurdler, now based in the US, only started back jogging after their son was born, and also works full-time as a coach in Bryant University, in Rhode Island, “So I can only train once a day. But then I don’t know if I could train full-time anyway. I think I’d go a little berserk. I’ve great support from my husband, so it’s a good team, the Reilly clan.”

However there was disappointment for Tori Pena after she missed out on a place in the final of the women’s pole vault: despite clearing 4.15 and 4.25 on her first attempt, Pena failed three times at 4.40 metres, below her personal best of 4.52, and with that missed the cut of the top 12.

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