A blistering opening morning session for the Irish team saw four athletes progress to semi-finals at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Prague.
Mark English in the 800m and Dara Kervick in the 400 both won first-round heats, with Declan Murray and Ciara Everard also reaching their respective semis.
English, the UCD AC athlete from Letterkenny, remains Ireland’s leading hope for a medal after coming from behind to win his first-round heat of the men’s 800m in the Czech capital.
The 21-year-old was third at the bell behind Thijmen Kupers of the Netherlands and Spaniard David Palacio, but overtook both on the back straight with a kick he is still working hard to develop.
A European bronze-medallist in the 800 outdoors in Zurich last summer, English’s winning time of 1:48.10 was the fastest of the opening round.
English said afterwards: “The leaders went through 600m in 1:20, so I knew if I could run a 27-second last 200m, I would be through.
“I’ve been doing that day in day out at any championships I’ve gone to in the past, so once I got to that point, it was just about coasting home and saving as much energy as I could.
“I was happy with how it went. I didn’t expend any more than I needed to and qualified.”
Joining English in the 800 semis is Declan Murray of Clonliffe Harriers.
Murray qualified in second-place in his first-round heat behind Poland’s Karol Konieczny with the American-born Irishman clocking 1:49.69 – but there was drama as Austrian Andreas Rapatz fell on the line trying to cut past Konieczny on the inside.
The Pole kept his line but was bundled over by the falling Austrian – Murray is grateful that in lane three, he avoided the carnage: “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.”
Also progressing in the women’s 800m was Ciara Everard, English’s clubmate from Kilkenny, who needed to sweat it out for half an hour before getting the nod as a fastest-loser.
Everard’s time of 2:02.69 was the second-fastest time not to automatically qualify, as she came third behind Russian Yekaterina Poistogova and Icelandic up-and-comer Anita Henriksdottir, whose 2:01.56 was a new national record and European junior record.
“I’m happy with that time. I hadn’t dipped under 2:03 this season so that was good. I executed my plan well,” was Everard’s assessment of her race.
Dara Kervick got the morning off to a flyer by winning his first-round heat of the 400 metres.
Leading from the break, the Clonliffe athlete from Kilkenny recorded a winning time of 47.03 to progress through to this afternoon’s semi-finals.
Kervick stormed off from the bell and was uncatchable, and will feel in with a good shout of potentially making the final.
His semi will be at 3:40 Irish time, and after his first-round success, explained: “It felt good. It was executed just as (coach) John Shields set out, which was get out in front and dictate from there.
“If anybody wanted to beat me, they would have had to go around me, and it would have been a hard feat to get around.”
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 for the talented club athlete to progress.
As well as Kervick, Paul Pollock will be in 3000m semi-final action at 5pm Irish time Friday afternoon.