A largely positive opening day for Ireland at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Prague saw four Irish athletes progress through to semi-finals, even though one of them would later be eliminated.
Dara Kervick had got things rolling magnificently for Ireland by winning his first-round heat of the men’s 400m in a winning time of 47.03 to progress through to the afternoon semi-finals.
The Kilkenny athlete, now with Clonliffe Harriers AC, led from start to finish.
A faster time of 46.96 in the semis was not enough to see him progress any further however, as he finished fourth in a race where only the top two would progress to Saturday’s decider.
Kervick had the Czech world indoor champion Pavel Maslak in his sights all the way, but could never get past Poland’s Lucasz Krawczuk in second place, and in his battle to get into the top two, was knocked down to fourth on the line by Belarus sprinter Aliaksandr Linnik.
He said after his second run of the day: “I’m happy. If you told me at the start of the year I would hit 46.5 seconds and come within reach of the European final, I would have taken it.
“No word of a lie, I would take it straight off!
“If you look back on the video, you can see me smiling the whole way through - even coming across the line being a bit disappointed.
“I didn’t get into the right positions there, it’s my mistake, it’s my fault.
“But it’s good, and I am happy.”
Earlier, Mark English came from behind to win his first-round heat of the men’s 800m in impressive style.
The Donegal man was still third at the bell and battling behind Thijmen Kupers of the Netherlands and Spaniard David Palacio, but put the foot down to pass both on the back straight.
The UCD AC athlete’s winning time of 1:48.10 was the fastest of the opening round, and the European outdoor bronze-medallist at Zurich last summer has the fastest season’s best time of all those in his semi-final, which is on at 5:25pm Irish time tomorrow.
English explained how he reigned them in: “I knew 24 seconds was too quick when they ran through the first 200, so I just had to wait back on 26 seconds, and then hit another 26 seconds for the next 200.
“I knew they weren’t going to run 1:46, so it was just about reeling them in.
“I felt good out there over the last 200.”
In the very next semi-final tomorrow will be Irish teammate Declan Murray of Clonliffe Harriers, who avoided carnage on the finish line to take an automatic qualifying place.
Murray breezed through in second place in lane three as Austrian Andreas Rapatz fell over right before the line in trying to overtake both the Irishman and eventual race winner Karol Konieczny of Poland on the inside.
Rapatz crashed into an advertising hoarding on the infield and didn’t make it through.
Konieczny also fell, but only after crossing the line as winner.
Murray is grateful to have both qualified and survived: “I didn’t get to see all the excitement but I got to dip on the line and knew the guys were there so I just had to run all the way through and make it 805m if needed, and be there when it counted.”
Progress too for Ciara Everard in the women’s 800m heats, though her success was a delayed one as she had to sit through the other heats before getting the nod for tomorrow’s semi-finals as a fastest loser.
Everard’s time of 2:02.69 would have won other heats, but was only good enough for third in her own contest behind Yekaterina Poistogova and Icelandic up-and-comer Anita Henriksdottir, whose 2:01.56 was a new national record and European junior record.
The UCD AC athlete from Kilkenny got through as second-fastest loser, and said: “I’m happy with that time. I hadn’t dipped under 2:03 this season so that was good. I executed my plan well.
Marathon man Paul Pollock clocked a new personal best in his semi-final of the men’s 3000 metres, but finishing in tenth place, was eliminated after clocking 7:58.78, beating his previous best by a second.
Carrick-on-Shannon athlete Ger O’Donnell finished sixth in his heat of the men’s 60m hurdles early in the morning to bow out.
There was additional Irish interest in the 800m through Dublin-based Kristaps Valters of Clonliffe Harriers, but representing his native Latvia, fifth-place was not enough to progress.
British multi-eventer Katrina Johnson-Thompson claimed the first gold of the weekend, with the second-highest tally in the history of the indoor women’s pentathlon.
The 22-year-old clocked up a remarkable tally of 5,000 points, leaving her a mere 13 points shy of the 2012 world record set by Nataliya Dobrynska in winning the world title. It also broke Jessica Ennis’ British record.
France had a clean sweep in the men’s 60m hurdles, with Pascal Martinot-Lagarde beating off Dimitri Bascou and Wilhelm Belocian into silver and bronze.
Sweden’s Michel Torneus claimed gold in the men’s long jump ahead of the host nation’s Radek Justa, providing the Czech Republic with their second medal of the Games.
Earlier, Ladoslav Prasil won bronze as twice European outdoor champion German David Storl of Germany won the indoor shot put continental crown for the first time.
The women’s 60m hurdles was won by Alina Talay of Belarus ahead of young British prospects Lucy Hatton and Serita Solomon, as developments emerged in relation to the previous running of this final in 2013.
Derval O’Rourke looks set for the fifth major medal of her career – post-retirement – with news emerging of a recommended third year being added to the ban of Nevin Yanit.
The Turkish athlete won gold in the 60m hurdles at the last European Indoors in Gothenburg, with O’Rourke pipped into fourth by one-hundredth of a second.
However, the wiping of this result would see the Cork sprinter elevated to bronze.