Ireland has one realistic medal chance as 567 athletes from 49 countries line up for the 34th European Indoor Championships, which start tomorrow in Belgrade.
In a 10-strong Irish team, chief hope rests on the shoulders of Ciara Mageean (UCD) in the women’s 1500m, though a podium place will be a tough ask for the Portaferry native.
Scotland’s Laura Muir, competing for Great Britain, is the best female distance runner in the world on current form and will be overwhelming favourite for the 1500m and 3,000m.
There will be significant competition for the minor medals too with Germany’s Konstanze Klosterfhalfen, Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui and Sweden’s Meraf Bahta all in good shape.
Mageean has had a stuttering indoor season, on and off the track, but did run a personal best of 2:03.7 over 800m last weekend at the Leinster Indoor Championships in Abbotstown.
The UCD athlete has struggled for form due to a cold and the death of her granny Eilish whose influence was huge.
“A woman who taught me to work hard and always look forward.”
Also running in the 1500m heats on Friday afternoon is fellow Rio Olympian Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle).
“I’ve been carrying a bit of a head cold but I’ll be fit and ready for Belgrade,” said Mageean who will be hoping to add to the 1500m bronze medal she won last Summer in the European outdoors in Amsterdam.
I don’t go in to make up the numbers and I’ll be aiming to produce a good result and hopefully bring something home.”
Bandon’s Phil Healy will get Irish interest underway alongside DSD’s Sinead Denny in the women’s 400m heats. Healy has had a good indoor season to date with multiple personal bests.
The Bandon athlete is also entered in the 60m but will be focusing on the 400m where she won the national title last month in 53.49 seconds.
Brian Gregan (Clonliffe Harriers) is rounding into shape and will be hoping to put in a good performance in the men’s 400m. Gregan is ranked sixth fastest on the entry list and has an opportunity to make the final if he can equal or better his season’s best of 46.59 seconds.
“I’m just going to take it one race at a time,” said Gregan who has been working on his mental approach going into the Championships.
“I’ve been working with sports psychologist Kate Kirby and that’s helped in getting back to my best and being prepared.”
Czech Republic’s Pavel Maslak is the outstanding favourite to win his third successive European Indoor 400m title.
Ciara Neville (Emerald) and Zak Curran (DSD) are making their international debuts at senior level in the 60m and 800m alongside a number of athletes looking to gain experience at the start of the next Olympic cycle.
Neville, 17, bounced back to top form this indoor season and equalled the national senior 60m indoor record to win the national junior title in Athlone.
The Castletroy schoolgirl added the national senior title last month and this will be another rite of passage in her pursuit of becoming an international athlete.
John Travers (Donore Harriers) will be looking to use his previous and replicate his performance in Prague in 2015 and make the men’s 1500m final.
Poster girl Ivana Spanovic will be the local favourite for Belgrade medal hopes in the women’s long jump. She has a best of 6.96m this season.
Other stars of the championships to look out for are Great Britain’s Andrew Pozzi in the 60m Hurdles and Poland’s Adam Kszczot in the 800m.
The Irish team for the European Indoor Championships:
Phil Healy (Bandon) 60m, 400m Ciara Neville (Emerald) 60m Sinead Denny (DSD) 400m Ciara Mageean (UCD) 1500m Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle) 1500m Brian Gregan (Clonliffe Harriers) 400m Zak Curran (DSD) 800m John Travers (Donore Harriers) 1500m Tomas Cotter (Dunleer) 3,000m Ben Reynolds (North Down) 60m hurdles
Team manager: Patsy McGonagle
Irish timetable (Irish time)
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