A blistering night for Ireland at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Glasgow saw Ciara Mageean qualify for Sunday’s 1500m final and Mark English win his heat of the 800m as both former European medallists continued their return to form.
But Phil Healy was eliminated in the 400m semi-finals after qualifying from the morning heats.
First, Mageean put in a fast time to get through as third-fastest overall in the 1500m semis, even though she had to wait to go through as a fastest loser.
The 2016 European bronze-medallist in Amsterdam stayed consistent throughout, lying second for a multitude of laps tucked in behind Czech athlete Simona Vrzalova.
However, both were overtaken practically on the line by a late surge from Spain’s Marta Perez, thanks to a lifetime best time of 4:08.05, pipping long-time leader Vrzalova by one-hundredth of a second.
Perez had been third for much of the contest, with Mageean having to make do with that position in a pacy 4:08.15, a time not good enough for an automatic qualifying place, but it was still faster than the winning times in the other two heats from home favourite Laura Muir (4:09.29) and Serbia’s Amela Terzic (4:16.51).
It gives the Portaferry athlete a strong chance of something big in Sunday evening’s final, after scoring recent successes on the track back home during this indoor season.
Mageean couldn’t say much after the race due to illness, but well after the event related: “It was good, but I was a little disappointed also as I wanted an automatic qualifying time.
“But I’m in the final now and that’s all that matters.
“I’m feeling much better now after my cool-down. Indoors, the legs get a little bit lactic and I felt bad after the race.
“A recovery day will be vital for the final.”
Ciara Mageean finishes third in her 1500m heat at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow. She goes through to Sunday's final as one of the fastest losers. pic.twitter.com/onXz2iDbRz— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) March 1, 2019
Mark English has been showing glimpses of his form from the glory days of 2014-15 with big February wins in Ireland, alongside his fastest time indoors since setting the Irish indoors 800m record five years ago.
But the former European indoor and outdoor medallist scored perhaps his most significant victory since that indoor silver won in Prague four years ago this week, as he claimed a very impressive success in the heats of the men’s 800m in Glasgow.
English put three years of injury-affected form behind him with a performance of true confidence.
The UCD athlete from Letterkenny got out well and stayed out in front throughout, never dropping below second.
A speedy final lap saw English take victory in 1:49.38, ahead of Aymeric Lusine of France, second in 1:49.62, to progress to Saturday’s semi-finals.
“I felt very good,” English beamed after his win. “It was just a nice race where I managed to get by the leaders with 150m left in the race and I’m really happy with it, looking forward to tomorrow.
“I think that’ll tell a lot more tomorrow.
“Just excited to get out there again against the best in Europe here, and a quality field.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
There was no progress for Zak Curran or Conall Kirk however.
Curran of DSD was crowded out in a stacked heat, coming home fifth in 1:49.77 – which would have won the first two heats – while Kirk of Annadale Striders was sixth in his contest, in 1:50.50.
Swede Andreas Kramer and Germany’s Christoph Kessler won the Irishmen’s heats.
Curran said: “It’s disappointing. I executed the plan I wanted, which was to get onto the front and tuck into second place or third, and then be in a position to strike.
“But the Italian guy Barontini pushed us out of the way straight away and I lost two strides, so I lost pace with the break.
“I should have been one of the quickest there.”
Zak Curran on the rough and tumble of indoor running pic.twitter.com/dzCL899UaM— Athletics Ireland (@irishathletics) March 1, 2019
Phil Healy’s 400m day proved to be eventful if nothing else, getting through out of the morning heats as a fastest loser, then being clipped in the closing straight of her semi-final as she was gunning for the leaders.
The Waterford-based Bandon AC star - whose national outdoor records over 100m and 200m last summer made her the toast of Irish athletics – found herself starting in an awkward lane 2 draw for the semi-final, as a result of not getting through automatically from the morning action.
However, Healy was game and got into third position at the break on the bell, behind Switzerland’s defending champion Lea Sprunger and Agne Serksniene of Lithuania, who – with no fastest-loser places available this time - were filling the two automatic qualifying spots for the final.
The top two may have been well clear, but Healy was still in with a chance in third of cutting the gap to the leaders at the very least.
But the Irish sprinter was clipped by the falling Italian Ayomide Folorunso, and Healy’s momentum was gone.
To her credit, the Corkonian managed to hold onto third spot, but was well outside the qualifying spots for the final.
Sprunger’s winning time of 51.90 is a new European lead time, with Serksniene setting a new Lithuanian national record of 52.33 in second, breaking her own mark set at last year’s World Indoors in Birmingham.
Healy was not downcast with her fate though: “I was definitely getting closer to the Lithuanian that was in second place and I knew I could push myself more.
Phil Healy on the rollercoaster that is indoor 400m running pic.twitter.com/eEzooRpxhH— Athletics Ireland (@irishathletics) March 1, 2019
“I made the best of it that I could out of lane two, I set myself up to get the best account out of myself, and unfortunately as I was moving out of lane two to make my move, the Italian clipped me and knocked everything.
“These things happen indoors but I was lucky to make the semi-final in the first place – I got through as the slowest out of the fastest-losers so I went out there with a new start, a new plan. Off I go and attack the race.
“It’s hard but in a way it’s nice having all the girls outside you, so you can see where you are and make your move. In lane six, you don’t know where you are.
World U20 silver-medallist Sommer Lecky of Finn Valley bowed out of women’s high jump qualifying with three misses at 1.81 metres, having cleared the opening height of 1.75 at the first attempt.
Laura Muir delighted the Scottish crowd by completing the first leg of her 1500-3000 defence, breaking her own Championship record from Belgrade two years ago to take the longer distance in 8:30.61, storming away from Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen at the bell.
220m to go - "Don't underestimate Klosterhalfen's speed"
200m to go - Muir destroys herMarch 1, 2019
It’s the first time a British woman has successfully defended a European indoor title.
Muir’s team-mate Melissa Courtney took the bronze for Britain, who also scored gold and silver in the women’s pentathlon through Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Niamh Emerson.
Bronze went to France’s Solene Ndama.
Remember, Poland won most titles in Belgrade two years ago, and claimed the opening gold medal of these Championships via the men’s shot put, won by Michal Haratyk.