Irish athletes impress on second day of European Athletics Championships

Malcolm McCausland

Israel Olatunde continued his progress towards world class as Irish athletes impressed on the second day of the European Athletics Championships in Munich. The 20-year old UCD student finished a fabulous sixth place in last night’s 100m final won by Olympic champion Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy in a championship record 9.95 seconds.

The Dundalk-born athlete of Nigerian parents did not look out of his depth by any means and finished strongly for sixth place in a new personal best and national record of 10.17 seconds. He shared that time with the fifth placer, Mouhamadou Fall of France, and was only three-hundredths of a second off the bronze medal spot taken by Great Britain’s Jeremiah Azu.

Earlier, Olatunde had finished second in his semi-final behind Jacobs despite not getting the best of starts. But his enormous strength told as he got up on the line for that second and crucial automatic qualifying spot. His time of 10.20 was then the second fastest of his career and just two-hundredths of a second off Paul Hession’s national record which he smashed in that epic final.

In the morning session, Ciara Mageean marked herself out as a potential medallist with a confident running performance in her heat to move confidently through to Friday’s final. With just the first four guaranteed to advance, the Portaferry woman was not going to take any risks and went immediately to the head of the field from the gun.

She led at both the 400m and 800m marks, passing the latter in a respectable 2:12, and was still in the lead with 300m to run. She continued to control the race  but eased back on the homestraight, allowing Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui to take the win in 4:02.73. The City of Lisburn athlete clocked a season’s best of 4:03.03 in second spot, auguring well for the final where she renews her rivalry with Great Britain’s Laura Muir who took gold in the Commonwealths.

Sarah Healy had run faster than Mageean this season, but it was not evident as she failed to engage in the other semi-final. The Blackrock athlete has set a clutch of Irish U23 records this season but ended up 11th in 4:10.75, a similar outcome as the she had at World Championships last month.

Donegal man Brendan Boyce bounced back from a lowly 25th place at the recent Worlds to take 10th in the 35K walk. Boyce, 35, finished in two hours, 38 minutes and three seconds, over 11 minutes behind the winner Miguel Angel Lopez of Spain, in a race where only 17 of the 27 starters completed the distance on account of the heat and humidity.

There were contrasting outcomes for Ireland’s two 400m runners who both had received byes to their respective semi-finals. Rhasidat Adeleke may have been running her 48th race of the year but looked as fresh as a daisy as she cruised to third place in her semi-final in 51.08. That gained her a place in the final as one of the two fastest non-automatic qualifiers.

Chris O’Donnell never recovered from a sluggish start from his blocks and, although he improved around the final bend, simply did not have the speed to gain one of the two automatic advancement spots. Fifth in 45.73 seconds was his final placing and well outside the fastest qualifiers.

Both of Ireland’s runners in a crowded men’s 5000m acquitted themselves respectably. Brian Fay put in a strong last lap to take eighth of the 24 starters in 13:31.87 with Darragh McElhinney who seemed to run himself to a standstill for 16th place with a 13:39.11 timing. Norway’s Olympic and World champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen fought off Spain’s Mohamed Katir to lift the gold medal in 31:21.13.

One of Ireland’s best medal hopes enters the fray today when Thomas Barr lines up this morning (10:12am) in the 400m hurdles. Before that Commonwealth Games silver medallist Kate O’Connor starts the heptathlon (9:30am) and Rhasidat Adeleke is in the final on the 400m tonight (21:02).