Mark English took victory in the 800m as the Irish women’s 4x400m relay team produced their fastest time since the 2012 Olympics, but Ireland have to be content with eighth place in the European Athletics Team Championships First League in the Finnish city of Vaasa, writes Will Downing.
After earning World Championships qualification last Sunday at the Stockholm Diamond League meeting, English produced his trademark kick to streak past Dane Andreas Bube in the final straight to earn maximum points for Ireland, only the second athlete to manage this over the weekend at the Karl’s Stadium.
English had played his 800m final quite coolly throughout, remaining in close contact with the front for the majority of the race, and with previous Swedish leader Andreas Kramer dispensed with early into the final straight, it became a direct head-to-head between English and Bube.
Bube held the lead on the inside past the final bend, but English pushed through well to overtake the Dane on the outside to score a fine victory.
1:49.02 was the Donegal athlete’s winning time, with Bube second in 1:49.14 and Kramer third on 1:49.57.
English’s net contribution on the final day was an impressive 23 points, as his anchor leg helped Ireland to second place in the men’s 4x400m relay behind Belgium.
A strong Irish quartet of Christopher O’Donnell, 400m winner Brian Gregan, Olympic fourth-placer Thomas Barr and English had kept up in the top two throughout the entire race, at times marginally ahead of the Belgian team, at other times marginally behind.
Michael Rossaert’s kick for the line saw him edge out English into second place, with Belgium recording a winning time of 3:04.87 to Ireland’s 3:05.08, the 14th fastest time ever recorded by an Irish 4x4.
With the A Final producing a winning time for Turkey of 3:08.01, that meant another eleven points in the bag for the men and women in green, in their fight against relegation to the third flight of European team athletics.
At one stage in the middle of the afternoon, Ireland had slipped from their morning position of seventh to ninth, just one place and fourteen points above the relegation zone, where 10th-placed Estonia were looking to overhaul the 2013 hosts.
But with the ninth-fastest ever Irish women’s 4x400m preceding the men’s achievement, Ireland’s survival was assured.
An impressive overall display from Sinead Denny, Phil Healy, Jenna Bromell and Sharlene Mawdsley saw the youthful Irish squad finish second in the B race behind Romania, who won in 3:31.83, as the Irish time of 3:32.65 entered the all-time national top ten.
Healy transferred the baton to Bromell in first place at the halfway point, with Bromell maintaining the strong Irish position to the final changeover.
24 hours after heling Ireland to second place in the 4x100m relay, 18-year-old Mawdsley of Newport AC in Co Tipperary, held her own impressively to be only edged out marginally by Romania’s Bianca Razor on the anchor leg.
In the A race, only winners Norway bettered the Irish time, but with the Norwegians being disqualified after the event, Ireland saw themselves promoted to second overall, securing another eleven points for the cause.
This promotion did not affect Ireland’s final position of eighth place in the overall points table however.
The next best performances for Ireland on the final day came in the field, as Sommer Lecky and Sarah McCarthy finished fourth in the high jump and long jump respectively.
Lecky, who only turned 17 last week, cleared 1.80 metres to make the final four survivors in the high jump competition, withdrawing after one miss at 1.84.
Only one athlete was able to clear higher than Lecky, the eventual winner Sofie Skoog of Sweden, who cleared 1.84, then flew over 1.87 and 1.90 for good measure.
In second and third were two athletes also bowing out, like Lecky, with a best of 1.80 - Ligia-Damaris Bara of Romania and Bulgaria’s Mirela Demireva.
When 15, Lecky won bronze at the most recent European Youth Olympics in Tbilisi two years ago. The next edition takes place in Hungary at the end of next month, in the city of Györ.
As for McCarthy, a season’s best of 6.21m in the second round saw her take fourth place overall in the long jump, and allow her entry to the final round, where she was not able to improve.
The 21-year-old from Mid-Sutton AC registered other attempts of 5.85, 4.63 and 5.94 in finishing seven centimetres outside the top three.
Khaddi Sagnia won for Sweden with a season’s best 6.52m, ahead of Portugal’s Evelise Veiga in second (6.36) and Norway’s Nadia Akpana Assa third (6.28).
One of the gutsiest performances of the week for Ireland would come from an athlete who finished last in his final, but in doing so would potentially save his team from relegation.
Marcus Lawler was on the brink of a high finish in the men’s 200m, lying third and pushing for the front when the Carlow sprinter pulled a hamstring in the closing straight, robbing him of potentially the result of his life.
The St Laurence O’Toole’s speedster set a personal best of 20.71 seconds in finishing second in Friday’s heats, putting him fifth in the Irish all-time list, and was looking even better this time around.
However, Lawler felt the strain with around 40m to go, and fell to the track, as Ramil Guliyev won for Turkey in a Championship record 20.20.
Even matching his time from Friday would have seen Lawler take third position in today’s final.
Quick thinking from the 22-year-old though saw him hobble over the line to officially record eighth position and earn Ireland five valuable points. Had he remained on the ground, he would have been a non-finisher, and no points would have been gained. Team player.
John Travers put in a solid display to take fifth in the men’s 3000m final.
Twice a European Indoors finalist and trained by Jerry Kiernan, Donore Harriers AC athlete Travers was seventh on the final lap after a conservative but safe run, but solid acceleration over the final 200m saw him overtake Sweden’s Steffan Ek and Romania’s Laviniu Chis to finish in the top five, clocking 8:10.86, as Hélio Gomes won for Portugal, with Ali Kaya of Turkey running out of steam on the closing straight.
Ann-Marie McGlynn continued her excellent form as the European Cross-Country medallist and Women’s Mini-Marathon winner took sixth place in the women’s 5000m in a lifetime best 16:03.64, taking four seconds off her previous record.
Fabienne Schlumpf won for Switzerland in a new PB of 15:47.29, having also claimed yesterday’s 3000m steeplechase.
Seventh-place was Phil Healy’s lot in the 200m final, clocking 24.32 seconds. Her 23.65 run in Geneva a fortnight ago was one-hundredth-of-a-second outside her lifetime best set at last year’s Cork City Sports.
Former European 100m champion Ivet Lalova-Collio comfortably took top points for Bulgaria in 23.33.
Sarah Lavin trailed the field in 8th in the women’s 100m hurdles final.
Having reached the final via Friday’s qualifiers as a fastest loser, Lavin was drawn on the inside in lane one, and found herself playing catch-up almost immediately, clocking 13.84 seconds, well outside her season’s best of a fortnight ago in Geneva of 13.49 – a time which would have been good enough for fourth in Vaasa.
Switzerland’s Noemi Zbären took the honours in 13.28 seconds, while Estonia’s former Sportswoman of the Year Grit Šadeiko was second in 13.32.
Emma Mitchell was ninth for Ireland in the women’s 1500m, where the Queens University Belfast athlete was never really up with the leaders, but still ran a season’s best of 4:19.20.
AIT Grand Prix virtuoso winner Claudia Bobocea of Romania came from behind to nip ahead of Swede Meraf Bahta on the line to take victory by one-hundredth-of-a-second in 4:14.50.
Bahta had broken away with 100m to go, and had looked to have made the right move – but was caught right on the line.
Colin Quirke took seventh place in the men’s discus with an effort of 53.02m, with five other field athletes finishing in the bottom three of their events.
There were 10th-place finishes for Denis Finegan (triple jump, 15.12m), Sean Roth (pole vault, 4.70m), Stephen Rice (javelin, 63.17m), and Niamh Fogarty, equalling her personal best of 13.10m in the shot put.
Clare Fitzgerald was 11th in the women’s discus (46.45m), the same finishing spot as David Flynn in the 3000m steeplechase.
Ben Reynolds had been disqualified for a false start in Friday’s qualifying round, so did not compete in the men’s 110m hurdles final, meaning Ireland scored zero points in this event.
Unlike Reynolds, Denmark’s Andreas Martinsen was given the benefit of the doubt when he false-started in the final, and after the restart, the Dane romped to victory in 13.64 seconds.
Of Ireland’s 238 points in eighth place, 167 were earned on the track, but only 71 in the field, as yet again strong performances were cancelled out by low finishes in events with minimal funding.
Even if high finishes would have been achieved by Reynolds (DQed), Lawler (injured in 8th), Thomas Barr (5th) and Ciara Mageean, who was not present, Ireland still would not have bridged the 35 points needed to overtake Norway in sixth and take a place in the top half of the table.
Sweden, Finland and Switzerland all return to the Super League in 2019, with Turkey and Portugal missing out in fourth and fifth overall.
Estonia, Bulgaria and Denmark were relegated to the third flight, as Ireland survived by 35 points.