Ciara Mageean claimed Ireland’s 14th all-time European Athletics Championships medal, becoming Ireland’s ninth ever Europeans medallist, in winning bronze in the women’s 1500 metres in Amsterdam, in a dramatic finish, writes Will Downing.
A moribund first three laps gave way to a thrilling final 400m as the pace exploded into life, with Mageean fighting her way up the field in the last lap.
Moving up from eighth to fourth in the space of 100 metres, the UCD athlete was baulked by Norwegian Ingvil Makestad Bovim in the closing straight, but the Irishwoman stepped aside, injected even more pace into her closing strides, and not only took bronze, but almost grabbed silver, being edged out at the death by the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan, who had led for most of the closing lap.
Angelika Cichocka of Poland took the gold in 4:33.00, with Hassan’s 4:33.76 pipping Mageean’s 4:33.78.
Makestad Bovim was fourth in 4:34.15.
Mageean had been a talented underage athlete, winning European Youth Olympics 1500m goldin Tampere in 2009, and the European Junior 1500m silver two years later in Tallinn.
The 24-year-old last competed in a major championship in the 2012 Europeans in Helsinki – since then, injury has ravaged the past few seasons.
“I’m slightly disappointed I didn’t get silver,” Mageean admitted immediately after the race.
“It was a very very slow race at the start. I was told the splits, but I didn’t look at the clock.
“I’m out there to run for medals, not for times.
“Obviously the tempo upped, and everybody started running fast. It got a little messy, getting boxed in.
“I’m a little disappointed with the bronze medal but I’m taking that as a big positive for me – my first Championship back for years and I’m disappointed with a bronze!
I know there’s plenty more left in my legs and had I had a clear home straight, maybe the colour of the medal would have been different.”
Mageean was so focused on her performance that she never noticed getting massive spike marks on both thighs.
The Irish men’s 4x400m relay team were denied a spot at the Olympics in coming fifth in the European final, again agonisingly shy of the target needed to get inside the top 16 nations who will be invited to Rio.
Ireland remain 17th.
The quartet of Brian Gregan, Craig Lynch, David Gillick and Thomas Barr needed approximately 3:04.15 to get into the Olympic places, but again, were narrowly edged out of it by clocking 3:04.32 – still an improvement of 0.10 seconds from their semi-final performance.
Barr said afterwards: “Close but no cigar. We were close, but not as good again as we needed to be.
“We’re looking at the positives. We came fifth. For a team thrown together at the last minute not at full fitness, to come fifth again as we did in Zurich two years ago, we’ve consolidated our place.
“But we are all disappointed. We were physically and mentally prepared. We emptied our tanks and gave it our all.
“We’re sitting 17th, we didn’t get the job done we wanted to, but fifth at least in Europe.”
Belgium took gold ahead Poland and long-time leaders Britain, as Ireland found themselves denied again.
A treble burst in the closing straight saw Ireland’s trio in the women’s 3000m steeplechase final shoot up from the back of the field to take two top-10 positions.
A year to the day that all three qualified for the Olympics in Letterkenny, Michelle Finn scored a new lifetime best of 9 minutes 43.19 seconds to finish seventh, Sara Treacy was ninth in 9:45.19, and Kerry O’Flaherty 12th in 9:45.88.
Finn said: “A new lifetime best. I am definitely happy with that.”
Treacy beamed: “I put myself out there for the first 2k as I thought I had nothing to lose, having ruin a PB to reach the final.
“I paid for it near the end and started coming back, and then rallied in the final 200 metres.
“I suppose I wasn’t too far off my best. Lots of positives, but lots to work on still.
“I just thought near the end: ‘I’ve got something left. GO!’”
Gesa Krause of Germany took the gold in 9:18.85 – a new European lead – and emulated fellow AIT Grand Prix winner from Athlone during the winter, Sara Petersen of Denmark, who took the women’s 400m hurdles.
Kevin Batt was 17th in the men’s 5000 metres final in 14:20.50 as Ilias Fifa of Spain won in a five-way blanket finish.
Paul Pollock put controversy over his Rio Olympics marathon selection behind him by being the top Irish finisher in the men’s half-marathon – a new event introduced to compensate for the lack of a European marathon in Olympic year.
The Annadale Striders runner came home 17th, with Mick Clohisey 32nd, Kevin Seward 34th, and Sergiu Ciobanu 57th. Mark Hanrahan and Gary Murray, originally put down as finishing in the 80s, did not finish.
Two former Kenyan athletes tilted for the top honour, with Tadesse Abraham of Switzerland beating off Mike Kigen Ozbilen of Turkey, with Italian Daniele Meucci third. 1:02:03 was the winning time.
A similar outcome did not happen in the women’s half-marath, as Sara Moreira won for Portugal in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 19 seconds - 16 seconds ahead of Italy’s Veronica Inglese and another Portuguese, Jessica Augusto.
Ireland’s Claire McCarthy was 48th, Gladys Ganiel 71st.
Hosts the Netherlands struck gold for the fourth time at the Championships, as Dafne Schippers heled the women’s 4x100m squad to gold ahead of Britain and Germany.
The British did win the men’s 4x100 and women’s 4x400m however.
Turkey weren’t the most successful nation of the week after all.
Along with Cichocka’s 1500m gold, Poland scored on the final day also through Adam Kszczot in the men’s 800 metres and Pawel Fajdek in the men’s hammer, taking their number of titles during the week to six.
Britain and Germany won five golds each, with the latter earning the men’s shot put once more through David Storl, along with Krause’s steeplechase success.
The half-bearded Gianmarco Tamberi won the men’s high jump to go with his world indoor crown, and Patricia Mamona of Portugal enjoyed women’s triple jump success.
But Mageean’s success means seven of the last eight European outdoor championships have seen Ireland come home with some hardware.