NEVER before has an Irish team carried so many medal hopes intoa major athletics championship – hopes that were reinforced by an air of optimism as the squad of 33 began to assemble at their base in Barcelona yesterday for the European championships.
“Everyone was nice and calm and there is a great atmosphere here,” team manager, Patsy McGonagle, said.
“Some of the athletes have been here since Saturday and others – like Derval (O’Rourke) won’t arrive in until Monday – but they all appear to be happy and that has to be a good sign.”
By 10am on Wednesday we could have secured two medals if everything goes according to plan in their respective walks for world silver medallist, Olive Loughnane, and Robert Heffernan.
The Togher man, who finished sixth in the world championships in 2007 and was eighth in the Olympics in 2008, gets the show on the road with early morning start (7.05am) tomorrow, while Loughnane who was seventh in Beijing before winning the silver medal in the 20k walk in Berlin last year has a similar early morning start on Wednesday.
David Gillick will be among the medal favourites when he lines up for the first round heats of the 400m tomorrow (10am) while Paul Hession will be another medal favourite when he lines up for the heats of the 200m on Thursday morning and one cannot rule Alistair Cragg out of a podium finish in the 5,000m which also begins on Thursday.
Only a handful of Irish athletes have won medals at the European championships. Sonia O’Sullivan accounted for five including all three gold medals which she won in Helsinki in 1994 (3,000m) and Budapest in 1998 (5,000m and 10,000m) before adding silver medals from the 5,000m and 10,000m in Munich in 2002.
Ronnie Delany won bronze (1,500m) in 1958, Frank Murphy took silver (1,500m) in Athens in 1969, Eamonn Coghlan silver (1,500m) in Prague in 1978, and Mark Carroll bronze (5,000m) in Budapest in 1998. The other medal was a silver won in sensational circumstances by Derval O’Rourke in Gothenburg four years ago.
She was ranked eighth going into Gothenburg but a battling campaign ended with an incredible final in which she dead heated for the silver with Kirsten Bolm of Germany. Last year she was struggling for a place in the top 20 going to the world championships but, after another gutsy campaign, she was within fractions of a metre of a medal.
She admitted: “I have a massive respect for how hard it is to win a medal. It is going to be a dog fight out there and I’m OK with that. I have never been ranked above the top eight. I was outside the top 20 going into Berlin last year and I nearly got a medal. Statistics don’t bother me. They have never been my friend.”
O’Rourke begins her 100m hurdles campaign on Friday morning.
Ireland will have three athletes in action in the first round heats of the 400m this morning (10am Irish time) when young Brian Gregan and veteran Tullamore sprinter, Gordon Kennedy, will join David Gillick. Kelly Proper goes in the qualifying rounds of the women’s long jump at 11.45am (Irish time) while the first round heats of the women’s 800m which will feature Roseanne Galligan have been put back to the evening session and will now be held at 7.10pm (Irish time) while Jason Smyth will go in the first round heats of the men’s 100m at 6.35pm (Irish time).
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