By Will Downing
Alex Wright came close to pulling off Ireland’s second medal of the European Athletics Championships, finishing tenth after leading with six kilometres to go in the men’s 20k walk.
Wright, of Leevale AC, was up with the leading group throughout the first three-quarters of the race, capitalising on the relatively slow pace.
There were also more bodies on the course to contend with than had been anticipated, due to the merging together of both the men’s and women’s races, due to a reported gas leak on the course that caused the women’s race to be delayed almost two hours.
The only major move in the first half of the race saw Italy’s Giorgio Rubino move clear by a five-second margin, but the chasing pack with Wright to the fore reeled him back in again.
Rubino would later be disqualified with two kilometres to go after picking up three cards.
Wright looked solid and continued up with the front men until picking up two cards himself around the 14k mark.
Deciding against risking a third and suffering disqualification – as had happened in London last year – Wright slowed down, falling to 15th place.
The Cork-based walker was able to consolidate his position, and accelerated again over the final 2k to take a very creditable tenth place – his highest ever major Championship finish – in 1 hour, 22 minutes 18 seconds.
Wright related: “I was up in the lead group up until 14k when I picked up two cards.
“The second card came in around 14, and I sat back in the middle of the group as I didn’t want to expose myself at the front anymore.
“That’s a new pace for me. It’s the first time I’ve led at a major Championships, so I was just a bit cautious.
“I sat back and then got back into the race when I realised I was okay for the rest of the race.
“The race wasn’t particularly fast, so it was comfortable for me.
“I was comfortable up at the front. I’ve trained brilliantly and have been up at the front in a lot of challenge races this year and last year.
“I believed I could be there, and did the work going into it.
“To be honest, I didn’t actually drop that much of my pace in the last 5k, it was just the leaders picked it up, so I’m happy with it.
“There are so many positives to take from today.”
Westport’s Cian McManamon was 21st in 1:25:43.
In his first major Championship, the Mayo walker was more than content with his day’s performance.
McMamamon said: “After the World Cup in May, I felt I could have gone top 16 or top 12.
“I’ve had a turbulent time since then but I’ve worked hard since then over the past few weeks to get myself right.
“I fought as hard as I could and to be honest, it’s my first major Champs.
“I got the best out of myself and 21st out on Europe. When you think about it, there are only twenty lads ahead of me and one-by-one I’m going to have a go at them over the next few years and I feel right now I’m nowhere near my peak and I’m improving.
“Happy with 21st, and looking to go again.”
Spain took all the glory along the European Mile by Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kirche.
Alvaro Martín took a emotional win in 1:20:42, six seconds ahead of compatriot Diego García Carrera, who in a three-way sprint himself narrowly edged out “neutral” athlete Vasiliy Mizinov into third.
Italy’s Massimo Stano missed out on the medals by a single second, in fourth place.
Mária Perez earned gold in the women’s event for Spain, with a new Championship record 1:26:36.
Anezka Drahotova of the Czech Republic was second on 1:27:03, and after an incident near the end where she and Wright collided with neither suffering a loss in position, Italy’s Antonella Palmisano was third in 1:27:30, holding off Lithuanian pair Brigita Virbalyte-Dimsiene and Zivile Vaiciukeviciute.
Recalling the potentially awkward clash caught live on TV and then replayed, Wright said: “I didn’t think anyone saw that.
“I actually think I dealt with that quite well with 4k to go.
“I thought I was going on the floor there, but luckily I kept my balance and kept my composure.
“It didn’t affect me too much, but it could have gone the other way!”
None of tonight’s nine finals have Irish interest in them, with deciders in the men’s 800m, 5000m and high jump, the women’s 200m, 400m, long jump and discus, plus both 4x400m relays.