Brian Gregan has blazed a trail for Ireland on the opening morning of the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade by finishing second in the heats of the 400 metres, beaten only by the double world and European champion Pavel Maslak.
Gregan clocked 47.62 seconds in the second heat of five in the opening round of the 400, looking solid and composed throughout, lying second at the break 150 metres in, and staying there.
The Clonliffe Harriers sprinter, previously a bronze-medallist at the European Under-23s, ran Maslak close to the line, being popped only by five-hundredths of a second, with the Czech great winning in 47.57.
“Maslak was jogging around, so I was trying to work out should I go around him?” Gregan said after his successful progress at the Kombank Arena.
“I probably should have stayed a little bit more behind him as I stumbled in the final 50 metres. But I held it together and made my way through the line.”
A late surprise for Gregan was that the event was re-drawn shortly before the competition, bringing his start time half an hour earlier, and pairing him with the great Maslak.
“I was in heat five, the last heat,” Gregan explains.
“As I was getting on the bus this morning, I found out that I was pulled half an hour forward.
“It was a bit of a mess but these are the things you’ve got to deal with and get on with.
“It’s not normal - it shouldn’t be! You’ve just got to adapt and get on with it.”
Gregan’s semi-final will take place just after 5pm Irish time this evening.
There was no joy however for Phil Healy and Sinead Denny in the 400m heats, or for Zac Curran in the 800m.
Healy finished third in her heat of the women’s 400, clocking 54.80 after being hampered by the falling Denisa Rosolova of the Czech Republic at the bell.
Rosolova – highly-fancied as she won this title six years ago in Paris – tripped up and fell on the line with a lap to go, with Healy directly behind her.
The Bandon AC sprinter managed to dart away from the Czech, but lost her rhythm.
Original heat winner Floria Guei of France was disqualified, handing victory to Denmark’s Sara Slott Petersen, who kicked off her European Championship-winning and Olympic silver-medal-winning 2016 with victory in Athlone at the AIT Grand Prix.
Petersen’s revised winning time was 53.39 seconds.
However, right at the end of the morning session, Guei was reinstated after a successful – and lengthy – appeal from the French team.
The red-carding of Guei allowed Healy to advance up to third only temporarily, but she was denied the top-two finish that would have seen her automatically qualify, and that sealed the Corkonian’s fate, as team-mate Sinead Denny ran a faster time in her heat, but came fourth, and herself was eliminated.
Denny recorded 54.20, in a heat won by Lea Sprunger of Switzerland.
Phil Healy: 3rd in 54.80.
"It was just a disaster of a race, all around, out there, but I'll learn a huge amount." pic.twitter.com/46hyhk8t4y— Athletics Ireland (@irishathletics) March 3, 2017
Commenting on her drama, Healy stated: “It was just a disaster of a race overall for everyone.
“I was in lane 3 and tried to push as much as I could in the first 150 and get in the right contingent to make the break, and then the Czech girl (Rosolova) just cut across.
“She ended up falling right in front of me, and it knocked my momentum as I had to then go outside her, and from that point it was about playing catch-up.
“In the end, it wasn’t enough. It’s gutting to see 54.80 come up on the clock because seeing the other heats go through, they were slower than in previous years, and it looked as if that fastest losers’ spot was there for the taking.
“But it’s my first indoor Championships and just my seventh 400m indoors, so it’s all a learning experience.”
Healy goes in the 60m tomorrow, having broken her lifetime best twice in the space of two hours at last month’s televised AIT Grand Prix in Athlone, putting her 0.01 seconds away from the Irish record jointly held by Anna Boyle and Ciara Neville of 7.30.
Irish international debutant Zac Curran, of DSD and currently based in Texas at Baylor University, also missed out on progress in the 800 metres.
Originally from Surrey, but of Offaly parentage, Curran was fourth in his heat of the men’s 800 metres, with a time of 1 minute, 50.87 seconds, missing out on a fastest loser’s spot by two seconds - Poland’s Jan Kubista winning in 1:49.21.
Curran is currently 0.70 seconds outside the World Championship qualifying time for London in August, and is confident he can make it, but he was unhappy with his display.
“After the way I went around, I don’t deserve to be in that semi-final,” Curran said.
“Disappointing really. I felt flat. There was no real kind of spring in my step and never really made contact with that (leading) group.
“For the top two automatic-qualifying places, I was never really in that mix.”
Ben Reynolds’ morning action was deferred until early afternoon, due to the opening round of the men’s 60m hurdles being scrapped.
Instead, the Down hurdler will face into direct semi-finals at 3:45m Irish time.
Also this evening, Ciara Mageean and Kerry O’Flaherty will compete in the women’s 1500m semi-finals, with semi action also for John Travers in the 1500 and Tomas Cotter in the 3000 metres.