Helsinki 2012 – green shoots for Irish athletics

A hard day for Fionnuala Britton (Photo: Ian McNicol/Inpho via The Score)

The 2012 European championships in both football and athletics finished on the same day. Even though Ireland left both events without success, it’s fair to say that Irish athletes gave better performances than their football compatriots – and showed greater promise for the future.

Fionnuala Britton‘s fourth place in the women’s 10,000 metres was the most notable result. The current European cross country champion had reasonable expectations for a medal, and the result adds another unwelcome chapter to Ireland’s story of fourth place finishes in major track finals. Britton herself knows the frustration of a near miss, finishing fourth in the European Cross Country Championships in 2010 before stepping up for her title win the following year – so let’s hope her track career follows the same script.

Perhaps more frustrating than Britton’s fourth place was Brian Gregan’s fate in the 400 metres final. In what turned out to be Ireland’s closest brush with a medal, Gregan was in third place with 50 metres to the line. However, he had injured his groin in the first 100 metres and despite soldiering on bravely, he was unable to hold out for bronze and eventually finished sixth. Still, Gregan has left his calling card and has genuine potential for more finals to come.

Jessie Barr in the 400 metres hurdles went all the way to a final in her first senior international championships, setting a personal best in her semi-final. Her efforts in progressing probably took their toll for the final, where she finished eighth, but overall she should be very happy with her performance. Barr’s brother Thomas got as far as the semi-final in the same discipline, and these siblings have certainly made impressive championship debuts.

Paul Hession also did well to reach the final of the 200 metres, though he owed his place to the disqualification of the fastest loser above him. As the gold was won in a time slower than his personal best, perhaps Hession will feel he should have done better than eighth – but a championship final appearance shows that he is in good form ahead of the Olympics in a few weeks’ time.

Finally, Stephanie Reilly finished 12th in the final of the 3,000 metres steeplechase and is another Irish athlete who can draw on this experience for the Olympics.

It was a frustrating championships for Joanne Cuddihy. The 400 metres runner was disqualified for stepping out of her lane, and her storming leg in the 4×400 metres relay semi final wasn’t enough to earn Ireland a final place – but in any case the Irish were also disqualified, for breaching the changeover zone. But the team have confirmed their place in the Olympics, where they can hopefully make amends.

This year’s Olympics may be too much too soon for those Irish athletes who made such impressive debuts in Helsinki – but with the European Championships now taking place every two years we can look forward with hope and excitement to Zurich in 2014.

And just to put things in perspective, none of our Irish athletes had the Helsinki misfortune of Bulgarian sprinter Georgi Kirilov Georgiev, who broke his leg in his 100 metres heat. Warning: this is not for the squeamish:

YouTube credit: TheBizarTV via The Score

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