Rome heroics have put Ireland on the athletics map

Though the sight of four Irishmen at the back of the field in the 10,000m final suggests the overall selection process needs to be looked at

A jubilant Ciara Mageean takes gold in Rome. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
A jubilant Ciara Mageean takes gold in Rome. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images (David Ramos/Getty Images)

WHAT a week of athletics! Six days of unprecedented success by Irish athletes and a lofty 10th place for Ireland in the medal table at the European Athletics Championships in Rome.

Ciara Mageean, Rhasidat Adeleke and our marvellous relay teams gave the whole nation a sense of pride.

Instead of hoping, as so often is the case, for perhaps a solitary medal, breadcrumbs from the table, Irish athletes were centre stage, competing successfully against the best the continent of Europe could offer.

The hosts Italy had a marvellous home games, heading the medal table with no less than 11 gold and 24 in total.

France pipped their neighbours across La Manche for second spot on the table taking 16 medals in total to Great Britain’s 13 after both had claimed four golds.

A respectable but not outstanding haul for the British, who had a number of almost certain medal-winners, like Josh Kerr, Laura Muir and Matthew Hudson-Smith, opt out of the championships to concentrate on the Olympics.

Ireland’s two gold and two silver saw them finish 10th in the medal table and above athletics powerhouses such as Sweden, Germany and Greece.

Much further down the table were the Czech Republic (Czechia), Portugal and Finland. Twenty-seven countries took at least one medal with almost as many going home empty-handed.

In individual terms, Femke Bol from the Netherlands came out on top of the female table with three medals – two gold (400m hurdles and 4x400m relay) and a silver in the mixed 4 x 400m.

She was followed closely by Adeleke with her gold in the mixed and two silvers in the 400m and women’s 4x400m.

Another Dutch athlete, Lieke Klaver, also claimed three medals, a full set with gold in the 4x400m relay, silver in the mixed and a bronze in the individual 400m.

While the accolades continue to pour in for our medal winners, a more forensic examination of the overall team performance may be needed.

Leaving the medals winners out of the analysis, Sarah Lavin (100m hurdles), Sharlene Mawdsley (400m), and Sarah Healy (1500m) were the only other Irish athletes to garner a top-eight spot in an individual event.

A review of the selection policies is needed. For instance why were there five Irish representatives in the men’s 10,000m final on Wednesday night? Leaving Efrem Gidey aside, four Irish men labouring at the back of the field was bad for the national image, especially coming almost immediately after the relay girls had done so well.

Similar criticism could be applied to the female 10,000m representatives, half marathon runners and the walkers. If an Irish athlete cannot get through a preliminary round or has the potential to finish in the top 20 of the mass events, should they be there? Because European Athletics want to pad out fields, it should not mean that Ireland has to supply the cannon fodder.

Meanwhile, it is not exactly back to porridge tomorrow but certainly back down to earth with Lagan Valley’s 70th Anniversary of the First Sub-4 Minute Mile Meeting at the Mary Peters Track. Two athletes from Ireland’s 4x400m relay teams, Lauren Cadden and Callum Baird, are on the entry list.

Cadden was awarded a silver medal for her leg in the semi-finals which helped take the team through to final eight. Earlier this spring, she had won the Irish Universities 400m titles.

Baird, a Ballymena & Antrim athlete, had a scintillating final leg of 45.14 seconds for the men’s 4x400m team. That was faster than the 20-year-old had ever run before Rome. The meeting starts at noon with the 400m races and concludes after the six graded miles which start at 3:40pm.

It is busy weekend on the roads, starting with County Down 5K (6:30pm), the second race in the Paul Murray 5K Series (7:30pm) at Eskra, Co. Tyrone on Friday evening.

The Belfast 24 Hours race starts at noon on Saturday, while the Flagstaff – Carlingford Mountain Race has an 11am start time on Sunday.