David Gillick got his bid for the European 400 metres title off to a solid start in Barcelona yesterday.
The 27-year-old won his heat comfortably in 45.84 seconds to qualify fifth-fastest for the semi-finals this evening.
Jason Smyth, a two-time Paralympic champion who is aiming to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics and thus become the first track athlete to compete at both Games in the same year, made it through to the semi-finals of the 100m, finishing fourth in his heat in 10.43.
But Robert Heffernan narrowly missed out on a medal in the 20 kilometre walk, finishing fourth in a time of one hour 21 minutes exactly, just 11 seconds behind bronze medallist Joao Vieira of Portugal.
Gordon Kennedy joined Gillick in the semi-finals as a fastest loser in a time of 46.63secs, but Brian Gregan missed out.
“I just wanted to get the first round out of the way,” said Gillick.
“I did what I needed to do, I got out, stayed relaxed and picked it up a little bit down the back straight, but on the bend then began to see where I was and coming into the home straight I had a look just to make sure I stayed ahead and make sure I won.”
Gillick’s chief rivals for the gold medal, Belgian Jonathan Borlee and Briton Martyn Rooney, also qualified comfortably.
And Gillick knows the semi-final is going to be far tougher.
He added: “In the semi-finals you can’t wait around, you can’t look at anyone else, you’ve just got to put the blinkers on and off you go.”
Smyth, who is partially sighted, said: “At the Paralympics you’re number one, you’re expected to win which is nice, going there knowing you’re supposed to win and could potentially go home with gold. But here the competition’s a lot harder. You get away with very little, you’ve got to be on your top game.”
Kelly Proper did not fare so well in long jump qualifying, failing to record a distance, while Justine Kinney, Michelle Carey and Brona Furlong all failed to make it through in the 400m hurdles.
Rose-Anne Galligan recorded a personal best of two minutes 1.76 seconds in the 800m but it was not enough to qualify.