The biennial European Athletics Indoor Championships take place this weekend, 1-3 March, in Gothenburg. Ireland is sending a team of 11 to Sweden, and hopes of success are high.
Ciaran O’Lionaird, the cult hero of Irish athletics today, seems to have recovered from his injury-blighted 2012, finishing third in the Wanamaker Mile a few weeks ago. Derval O’Rourke, 60 metres hurdles bronze medallist at these championships in 2009, is by now well noted for saving her best performances for championships. Double European cross-country champion Fionnuala Britton will face a much different challenge on a tight indoor track but is undoubtedly in top form.
Perhaps our greatest medal hope is Brian Gregan, the fastest man in Europe over 400 metres this year. Gregan will be looking to make up for his European outdoor frustration last year, when a freak injury during the 400 metres final forced him to slow up on the home straight when a medal seemed his for the taking.
Since the turn of the millennium Ireland has enjoyed relative success at the Euro Indoors, compared to its outdoor counterpart or other international championships. Mark Carroll won 3,000 metres gold in 2000, with Alistair Cragg taking the same title in 2005. Also in 2000, James Nolan won silver in a thrilling 1,500 metres final.
Karen Shinkins came home with bronze in the 400 metres in 2002. Now, what’s more impressive than an athlete who has won an international championship medal? Why, an athlete who has won an international championship medal and also survived a plane crash, of course!
Meanwhile, Derval O’Rourke’s 2009 bronze came between two of those dreaded fourth-place finishes, underlining both her consistent achievement at these games and Ireland’s long-standing curse of suffering as many near misses as medal wins. And at the same 2009 championships Mary Cullen also won bronze, in the 3,000 metres.
But Ireland’s top athlete in Euro Indoor terms is David Gillick, who won the 400 metres title in 2005 and retained it in 2007.
The indoor boards have been good to Gillick. Along with those two Euro golds he has a World Indoor bronze medal from 2004 as a member of the 4 x 400 relay team with Robert Daly, Gary Ryan and David McCarthy. In 2010 he finished fifth in the World Indoor final but was later disqualified after colliding with an opponent.
Gillick has also known his share of frustrations, mainly due to injuries. If you follow the athletics community online you may have seen a remarkable blog post of his – while feeling low during a period of injury, he hears of a novice marathon runner who cites a motivational speech by Gillick himself years previously. Intrigued and inspired, Gillick decides to meet the runner and subsequently reflects on being reminded of his own good advice.
The 400 metres is probably the event which is most affected by the move from outdoors to indoors. Out in the open air it’s a single-lap sprint in lanes. But under the roof it’s a two-lap race, with only the first lap in lanes before a break just before the bell – closer in spirit to an outdoor 800 metre race, then, where pure speed must also be married to bumping and positioning.
Let’s hope Gregan can emulate Gillick in the 400 metres in Gothenburg this weekend, and wish all the Irish team well. Here’s Gillick’s second European win in Birmingham in 2007, nicking gold right on the line in a nail-biting finish: