Kieran Behan perfectly balanced after agonising miss in Baku

Gymnast who has defied host of obstacles misses out on medal by .144 of a point

If each new day brings fresh evidence of where they've poured the estimated €9 billion into the staging of these first European Games – a brand new fleet of BMW 3-Series police cars, especially for us – it still seems there's no exact value on the winning and losing of medals.

While some leading athletes apparently aren't interested, others can't hide their enthusiasm. And then there's Kieran Behan, who just misses out on a bronze medal and bravely accepts it when, if anyone in Baku deserved one of any colour, you feel it's him.

Behan’s background tale has been told many times: the young gymnast with the botched leg operation at age 10, which initially confined him to a wheelchair, and the advice he might never walk again; then, having defied that, his fall from the high bar which resulted in acute brain damage, more time in a wheelchair, then repeated black outs when he eventually got back training. He’s also torn both cruciate ligaments.

Perfectly executed

Against that backdrop Behan went into Saturday’s floor exercise final and ended up .144 of a point away from the bronze medal – the winning of which would have made a world of difference to him, and indeed the future of Irish gymnastics. Although his score of 14.866 appeared perfectly executed, it just wasn’t enough to get him onto the podium here (the bronze going to the Russian


David Belyavskiy

with 15.000).

So Behan was brave about it, clearly not knowing any other way: “Of course fourth place is one of those agonising positions to be in,” said the 26-year-old, “but I’m very happy. The one thing I wanted to do, coming out here, was to make the two finals, individual and all-round, and I made the two finals. That was the aim.

“Obviously to have won a medal would have been a huge bonus, but I still think to finish fourth, in the first ever European Games, is going to be special for me. Of course I am disappointed, because I am a perfectionist, in that routine, and I know if I hit that routine I can hit it special. And that’s what I was aiming for. But I’ve proved I’m consistent, I just know I can nail that routine.

“And this was a world-class field. Everyone is this field was either a world medallist, or a world finalist, and for me to step out there and come fourth is a massive achievement, for me, and my family and my friends and everyone around me will be proud. If someone said to me I’d come to the first European Games and finish fourth, after all I’ve been through, I’d have taken it.”

No one on the boxing team is counting their medals just yet, but with nine quarter-final bouts now secured, there’s no hiding the rising expectation.

Perspective Team captain Darren O’Neill was the last of them to earn his

spot last night, coming through his heavyweight contest against Latvia’s Raitis Sinkevics with a unanimous 3-0 decision before immediately putting a lid on any medal talks, until at least one is actually secured.

He immediately urged calm: "Look, it's fantastic, and we came here with a young team, bar myself and Alan Nolan, the two grandads, and I suppose Katie has been around for a while. So it's a great to get this far, on a major stage.

“We’ve nine boxers in the last eight but we haven’t any medals yet. So we’re looking to perform the next day. It’s all about the next fight. But there’s a great spirit, great atmosphere. We training together, we’ve been away a month now, and everyone is cheering on everyone else, if they’re not in the ring. So far so good, and hopefully it will continue for another few days.”

O'Neill is out next on Wednesday against Ukrainian Gevorg Mannkian, while team coach Billy Walsh will also be taking a special interest in tomorrow's light welterweight quarter-final involving his nephew, Dean Walsh, who came from behind to win a split decision over the top-ranked Russian Maxim Dadashev.

“Of course having him (Billy) in the corner is a huge advantage,” said Walsh, who is up next against the German Kastriot Sopa. “I took some very heavy shots from the Russian, early on, and when you’re close, trying to hit and not get hit, he caught me with a good few shots.

“We went in there with a plan, the plan didn’t really work, but it came together once I started throwing my shots. But I thought I came out on top, I knew the fight was close, if it went his way, I would have put my hand up, anyway, but Thanks be to god it went to me.”

Now, surely, some medals will start coming our way too.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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