Chris O'Donnell is ready to go all out for a medal

O’Donnell is fifth on the 400m ladder based on runs this term, one of half-a-dozen Irish athletes at these European Athletics Championships who sit in their respective top tens
Chris O'Donnell is ready to go all out for a medal

READY: Chris O'Donnell of Ireland. Pic: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Chris O’Donnell’s entire season has funnelled down to this.

Every athlete circles the big ones, the major championships where the eyeball count arches up through the roof. These are the weeks where the shoe sponsors and the admin folk responsible for doling out the government’s athlete funding sit up and take stock as to who is capable of doing what when it matters most.

And the Europeans brings with it the prospect of glory.

It started for real back in April when he went the extra few thousand miles by opting for Florida for a month-long training camp rather than a berth closer to home. Why? Because he could keep a diary of how he felt mentally and physically on arrival, how long it took for the jetlag to flush from his veins, and at what point his body felt ready for top gear.

Even more important were the notes he kept on and after his return.

That was the crucial bit. With the Worlds in Oregon and the Europeans just weeks later in Munich O’Donnell was pre-planning with Florida, walking through the steps he could follow or avoid in high summer. It’s a calculated operation and one calibrated to leave him at a perfect pitch when he runs the 400m heats at the Olympiastadion this evening.

He ran four times in the Worlds, twice in the 4x400m relay and same again in the 400m where he recorded a pair of identical 46.01s. Those aren’t the sort of times to make anyone gasp but he felt as if he was running on empty by the last of those goes in Eugene and he insists that the tank will be full when he steps on the track here.

This is it.

“Europeans is the more important championships,” he says.

It’s a song O’Donnell has been singing all year for anyone who has bothered to tune into his frequency and there is an air of confidence and certainty about the Sligo man that, added to his form in recent months, has fostered a sense of anticipation about his capabilities here in Bavaria this week.

“You don’t really know how you are going to get over the jetlag and see how busy it was but it went well and I want to try and run the race and win a medal for my country now,” he says. “It’s something I’ve dreamt of for years and years. I’ve been waiting all year for this championship, I have a big crowd coming from home, so really excited.” 

He should be.

There were a few years there after he went over to Loughborough University in the UK when his career stalled and he could have been tempted into the more social side of college life but, no, he never gave in. A change or two of coach and a few other alterations and he was back on course.

He has graduated now but still in the same Leicestershire surrounds. Benke Blomkvist, a Swede employed full-time by British Athletics, is his current coach and Charlie Dobson, who runs in the 200m for GB here this week, and Alex Haydock-Wilson, ranked second in the 400, are in the same training group.

O’Donnell is fifth on the 400m ladder based on runs this term, one of half-a-dozen Irish athletes at these European Athletics Championships that start today who sit in their respective top tens. It’s a promising core in what is a young but promising bunch of athletes that numbers 35 and across a wide variety of disciplines.

O’Donnell, like many of his colleagues, has talked down the value of times this week and stressed the primacy of placings. He’s right there but there, of course, is no getting away from the fact that these guys are unlikely to hit their markers in terms of results if the digits on the clock don’t impress.

It’s less than two months since he nailed his PB with a 45.26 in the Estadio Vallehermoso in Madrid. That still leaves the current contender almost half a second adrift of the national record set by David Gillick in the same city 13 years ago, but he has no doubt about his ability to shave some more of that off in Bavaria.

His high ranking offers a bye through to a semi-final which he intends to tackle at full pelt. He can afford to with just the two, potential, runs. Something similar to his PB should get him over that first hurdle and into a good lane for the big one and he estimates that it would take a dip into 44 territory to really put a stamp on the final itself.

“I don’t think 45.2 is my best run this year, there is more in there. I am very confident.

“There are a couple of guys in there ahead of me on the rankings who I have beaten and some guys behind me that it has been very close with as well so it’s going to be close.

“(Matthew) Hudson-Smith is a bit ahead, but he is human. He did get beaten there last week so you can’t write off anyone and you can’t say anyone is guaranteed a medal either.” 

This is it.

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