Fionnuala McCormack: Kenyan-born Turk winning gold ‘is a joke’

Wicklow athlete has to settle for fourth in 10,000m final at European Championships

Fionnuala McCormack (centre) running in the 10,000m final at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam. Photograph: Karen Delvoije/Inpho

They say the only feeling worse than finishing fourth at a major championship is finishing fourth again, and Fionnuala McCormack now knows that feeling all too well.

In the only track final on the opening day of the European Championships in Amsterdam, McCormack ran a typically courageous 10,000 metres, only to find herself finishing just outside the medals - not helped by the crushing front-running tactics of the Kenyan-born Turk, Yasemin Can, formerly Vivian Jemutai, and previously unheralded on the major stage.

Afterwards, the Wicklow woman didn’t hold back when venting her frustration at the ease with which Can suddenly switched allegiance, the 19 year-old athlete only cleared to compete for Turkey in March of this year, even though she’s never lived there.

“It’s a joke really, and I am not just saying this because I came fourth, it’s the same in every sport and I don’t think people should be able to just hop countries just because they feel like it,” McCormack told RTE.


“There’s absolutely no reason, and I don’t mean to be bad to people in Turkey, but there is not really any reason people would want to immigrate to Turkey at this point in time. It’s a dangerous country to be living in, so why would people feel like they want to represent them, I have no idea and I don’t think it should be allowed.

“I’ve said it to people at the top and they’ve basically just said it’s not something you have a choice in, just go and do it as it makes [THE SPORT]look good to the rest of the public. The athletes are basically pawns in the whole thing.”

So, another case of so near and yet so far for the Wicklow woman, who also finished fourth over this distance at the 2012 European Championships in Helsinki, as well as finishing fourth in the European Cross Country on two previous occasions.

The race was dominated by Can, the 19 year-old athlete only cleared to compete for Turkey in March of this year, even though she still lives and trains in Kenya. She hit the front early on and never looked back, taking the win in 31:12.86: Dulce Felix from Portugal took silver, and Karoline Grovdal from Norway took the bronze in 31:23.45, with McCormack, nee Britton, just seven seconds back in fourth, running 31:30.74, a season best by some distance and second fastest of her career.

Earlier, Thomas Barr made a clear statement of intent over the 400 metres hurdles by winning his heat in a season best, and is now eying up a place in the final.

Barr’s winning time of 50.17 seconds also earned him a decent draw for the third of three semi-finals on Thursday. The Waterford athlete looked comfortable throughout, with no lingering signs of the hip injury which ruined the early start of his season.

“Yeah, happy enough, definitely getting there,” said Barr. “I didn’t execute the perfect stride pattern, and took a comfortable enough route. But happy to have gotten though, and I’d be confident I can push that bit harder now in the semi-final.

“The track is actually quite soft, takes a lot out of the impact, and some of the juice out of the legs, so it’s definitely not that fast, which is pity, but of course it’s the same for everyone. But I’m definitely happy with that, considering two or three weeks ago I wasn’t sure I’d be even here.”

So, he'll go in lane two, knowing only the top two, plus the two fastest losers, will make the final, with the Rasmus Magi from Estonia clearly the man to beat.

Also safely negotiating their first round heats were Brian Gregan and Sinead Denny, both over the 400 metres flat. Gregan was part of a trio of Irish men in the one-lap event, finishing fifth in his heat in 47.02 seconds, running in lane one, and enough qualify for the semi-finals as the fastest non-automatic qualifier.

No such joy for Craig Lynch and David Gillick in the earlier two heats: Lynch finished seventh in heat one in 47.61, while Gillick finished eighth in heat two in 47.81, some distance off his long-standing Irish record of 44.77.

Denny did seal an automatic qualify spot in the women’s 400m semi-finals, finishing third in heat three with 53.95 seconds. “I’m delighted with that,” said Denny. “It was very windy down the back straight and I always find something in the last 100m to pull through.”

Claire Mooney missed out however, finishing seventh in her heat in 55.66.

Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner also missed out on a semi-final in the 800m by a single place, her time of 2:04.97 eclipsed in the final heat by 2:04.60 for Ana Komarova of Azerbijian.


(All times Irish)

08.35 Women’s pole vault Q - Tori Pena

09.50 Men’s 200 heats - Marcus Lawler

10.35 Men’s 800m heats - Karl Griffin, Declan Murray

14.15 Women’s 100m heats - Amy Foster

15.15 Men’s 400m hurdles semi-finals - Thomas Barr

15.45 Men’s 400m semi-finals - Brian Gregan

16.35 Women’s 400m semi-finals - Sinead Denny

17.20 Men’s 1500m heats - Eoin Everard

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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