European Indoors: Ciara Mageean scrapes into final

John Travers saw his chances of qualifying disappear after he heard a re-start gun

The relief was obvious - in every sense - as Ciara Mageean knew full well how properly sickening it would have been had she not qualified. She hadn’t come all the way to Belgrade to go out like that.

The hard part then, in some ways, is over, as Mageean still did just about enough to get into the 1,500m final on day one of the European Indoors, finishing fourth in her heat, going through as the third and last fastest loser: that final is now set for just over 24 hours later (Saturday, 6.45 Irish time).

The 24 year-old never looked comfortable and clearly never felt comfortable either, vomiting shortly after the race, then admitting she was still feeling the ill-effects of a head cold and cough she picked up before the national championships in Dublin two weeks ago.

“No, not at all, I definitely wanted to secure that a lot more convincingly,” she said, still coughing and spluttering. “But look, through to the final, that was the aim, and I’ll go back and refuel now and get ready for tomorrow. I lacked a little something but that’ll come. I feel this race will bring me on. I wanted to secure one of the top spots, which is why I got up there at the start, and not get bullied around.”


The one surprise is that is former Kenyan Meryem Akdag, now running for Turkey, was run off it over the last few laps, having done all the front-running. Instead victory went to Meraf Bahta of Sweden, formerly of Ethiopia, who clocked 4:12:39.

Britain’s Sarah McDonald got up for second, with Daryia Barysevich from Belarus holding on for third, but Mageean staying close in fourth, clocking 4:12.81.

The first two were automatic, plus the three fastest losers, with Mageean in that third-fastest spot after what was heat two. Third in the last heat was 4:14.31, and so she was safe.

“Yeah, sitting there watching that third heat with my fingers crossed, and I don’t like leaving it like that,” added Mageean. “And I don’t want to be in that position again, but again the plan was to make that final. And now that you’re anyone, it’s anyone’s race, and that gives me confidence.

“Maybe I was a bit too aggressive at the beginning, but I’ll go back and have a look at this race this evening, chat to my coach Jerry Kiernan, and decide a plan for tomorrow. Having a race like that hones you in, and you learn from every race you compete it. But I’m not going to cut it all completely apart.”

Britain’s Laura Muir, in record-breaking form all season, and attempting a 1,500-3,000m double, won the first heat in 4:10.28 and is clearly the athlete to beat. But a smarter, more in-from race from Mageean could still bring her close to the medal podium.

It was properly sickening in every sense for John Travers, also coached by Kiernan, who saw his chances of qualifying from his 1,500m disappear shortly after the starting gun after he, and most of the field, clearly heard a re-start gun: the race continued, only Travers eased up, twice (along with the Spanish runner Marc Alcala), expecting the restart. It never happened and his race was as good as over, as he trailed in last, in 3:59.72

“I definitely heard a bang, a really loud bang,” said Travers, who suggested there may yet be an appeal. “I didn’t really know what they were going to do. The rest of the field ran on, but that was me out of the race.”

Earlier, Brian Gregan exited the 400m at the semi-final stage, having come through round one earlier in the day: Gregan ran strong and smart when finishing second to two-time defending champion Pavel Maslak from the Czech Republic, the 27 year-old Dubliner clocking 47.62.

But there was no repeating of that later, as he finished sixth in 48.08, Maslak taking the win again in 46.45.

“It was just a poor run, shocking, but that’s the nature of our sport,” admitted Gregan.

The women’s 400m heats featured two Irish women, neither of whom made it to the semi-finals. Running in heat one, Sinead Denny from Dublin clocked 54.20 in fourth; Phil Healy from Cork started well in heat four, but tied up a little on the second lap and also ended up fourth in 54.80

Former British representative Zak Curran made his Irish debut in the 800m, but never once found himself in an automatic qualifying position and finished fourth 1:50.87.

Ben Reynolds also exited in the semi-finals of the 60m hurdles, sixth in his heat n 7.81, although it was worse still for Thomas Cotter, disqualified in his heat of the 3,000m for stepping on the inside of the track.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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