Canoeist Jenny Egan and track cyclist Felix English both came agonisingly close to medals at the European Games in Minsk as both were edged out in dramatic finals.
26-year-old English fell less than 0.10 seconds short of a bronze medal in the men’s scratch race, a 60-lap affair where lapped riders are eliminated.
The final mass sprint saw 31-year-old Greek veteran Christos Volikakis edge out exciting Polish youth rider Filip Prokopyszyn on the line – Volikakis first won World Championship medals in 2008, while Prolopyszyn was a five-time medallist at last summer’s European U23 and Junior Championships.
Just behind them, English was being pipped for bronze by home Belarussian rider Yauheni Karaliok, last year’s world champion in this event.
Ireland’s Martyn Irvine won World Championship gold in the same event in the same Minsk Arena Velodrome in 2013.
It was the first ever men’s track cycling final at a European Games, as the inaugural edition in Baku four years ago did not include velodrome events.
A deflated English sighed: “It was a very stop-start race, as the pace was on and off.
“Everyone was watching each other really closely, as we haven’t seen each other since March, so no one knows how everyone is going.
“I was convinced I had at least third, and coming over the line a guy came past me with five metres to go. I didn’t see him coming,” English said of the former world champion.
Women’s World Championship silver-medallist Lydia Boylan came 11th in the points race, as gold went to Ukraine’s Ganna Solovei.
Boylan reported: “The field was pretty mixed, with strong riders, and some really good sprinters in there, making it quite different tactically.
“Between me, and (team managers) Martyn and Brian we came up with some good tactics, and I tried to stick to them as much as possible.
“I tried to score in an early sprint. I really committed to that. I think my legs aren’t quite where they could have been.”
The currently-dominant Netherlands beat France in the men’s team sprint, while Russia won the women’s event ahead of Lithuania.
After two eighth-place finishes in K1 sprint B finals over 200m and 500m at Zaslavl Lake, Ireland’s Jenny Egan came home fourth in the longest canoe final of the European Games, the K1 5000m – just as she did at the previous European Games in Azerbaijan four years ago.
The 32-year-old from Salmon Leap Canoe Club in Leixlip, Ireland’s first ever medallist at a canoe sprint World Championships, remained in contention throughout the entire contest, successfully defending fourth throughout, but was unable to push up into the medals over the final 500 metres.
In stormy conditions that have lasted over 36 hours in Minsk, Belarussian paddler Maryna Litvinchuk took gold for the host nation in 24 minutes 52.258 seconds, sensationally holding off Dora Bodonyi of Hungary by three-quarters-of-a-second (24:53.003).
Six seconds behind in bronze was Slovakia’s Mariana Petrusova (24:59.099), who had a comfortable half-minute advantage over Egan in fourth (25:27.936).
It was déjà vu for the Irishwoman:
“There was thunder and lightning and wind, but you know, everyone had those conditions, everyone had to race in them.
“For me it was probably better as there was less heat, but it was tough, there was a big head wind out there on the home straight.
“I gave it my all, fourth place is not bad, but it’s just tough when you miss out on the medals again.”
Ireland’s Ronan Foley also had K1 5000m final action, but the 19-year-old found this contest a tougher nut to crack.
Foley finished 16th in 23:16.064, 87 seconds outside the medals, as Hungary’s Balint Kopasz took gold, ahead of Portugal’s Fernando Pimenta and Germany’s multi-gold-medallist Max Hoff.
The Irish prospect stated: “It’s a bit of a heartbreaking end to a brilliant week of racing that was full of PBs.
“I had a good start to today’s race, but it’s a field full of top guys and they’re all A performers out there - they are as good as it gets.”
It the gymnastics all-around finals, Ireland’s Adam Steele finished 20th in the men’s event, Emma Slevin 21st in the women’s.
As for today's action, it's a major day of destiny for Ireland’s boxers at the European Games as the colour is potentially set to change on all six medals clinched in the ring so far.
Victory in any of today’s semi-finals will change already-guaranteed minimum bronze medals into silver, with the three women’s semi-finals on in the early afternoon, and the three men going into battle in the evening.
Despite being assured of medals in boxing, Ireland still hasn’t appeared on the official medals table, as the colour of each medal is not yet certain.
However, any defeat today would immediately see Ireland appear on the table with bronzes, joining the 28 nations who have so far won medals in Minsk.
Lightweight world champion and Irish boxing captain Kellie Harrington faces into a semi-final today against Agnes Alexiusson of Sweden, considered to be her country’s top female fighter.
Harrington defeated European U22 champion Irma Testa of Italy in Wednesday’s quarter-finals.
Michaela Walsh fights Russia’s Daria Abramova at featherweight, after a sensational last—eight win over Germany’s world champion Ornella Wahler, while welterweight Grainne Walsh meets Polish veteran and 2005 European champion Karolina Koszewska in her semi.
Grainne has already stunningly over-turned Finland's European champion Elina Gustafsson in the previous round.
Commonwealth Games silver-medallist Kurt Walker from Lisburn is up against the tough Liverudian, Britain’s European champion and World bronze-medallist Peter McGrail, in his last-four encounter today.
Michael Nevin’s big task today is to tackle twice European bronze-medallist Salvatore Cavallaro of Italy in his middleweight semi-final, while Regan Buckley meets faces Armenia’s Artur Hovhannisyan at light-fly.
In badminton, Chloe and Sam Magee joust with Robin Tabeling and Selena Piek of the Netherlands in the mixed doubles quarter-final this morning at the Falcon Club.
Track cycling continues at the Minsk Arena Velodrome, with Robyn Stewart in the keirin, Orla Walsh in the women’s scratch, Marc Potts in the men’s point race and the Irish quartet of Shannon McCurley, Mia Griffin, Lydia Gurley and Orla Walsh are in the women’s team pursuit.
Estimated Irish times
12:00 Featherweight - Michaela Walsh (IRL) v Daria Abramova (RUS)
12:45 Welterweight - Karolina Koszewska (POL) v Grainne Walsh (IRL)
17:00 Lightweight - Kellie Harrington (IRL) v Agnes Alexiusson (SWE)
18:15 Light-Flyweight - Regan Buckley (IRL) v Artur Hovhannisyan (ARM)
18:30 Bantamweight - Peter McGrail (GBR) v Kurt Walker (IRL)
19:45 Middleweight - Salvatore Cavallaro (ITA) v Michael Nevin (IRL)