O'Lionaird falls on bittersweet final day in Zurich for Team Ireland

Ciaran Ó Lionáird after falling during the 1500m final. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

A bittersweet final day for Ireland at the European Athletics Championships in Zurich saw fourth and fifth places achieved, with another national record taken – but so much more was possible.

A dramatic fall while leading with 600 metres to go denied Ciaran Ó Lionáird a chance of a medal in the men’s 1500m final.

The Cork athlete was spiked at least twice in quick succession – possibly three times – as a tightly-bunched group accelerated behind him.

When defending champion Henrik Ingebrigtsen ran into the back of an already-stricken Ó Lionáird, the game was up.

The Irishman was on the track and took a while to get back up. Meanwhile, the race went on.

There was no denying or stripping Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France this time, as athletics’ bad boy – who has the 3000m steeplechase gold removed this week for removing his singlet before the end of the race – pounced on the final lap to clock a winning time of 3:45.60.

A close call for the other medals saw Ingebrigsten edge Britain’s Chris O’Hare, with Ireland’s Paul Robinson denied bronze by 0.17 of a second in a blanket finish.

Robinson had been exactly quarter-of-a-second away from silver.

“I’m gutted to say the least,” Robinson said in the aftermath of his narrow edging-out.

“I could almost see the medal hanging around my neck, and just had it painfully taken away from me with around 30 metres to go.

“That’s sport. Lots of great athletes have finished fourth before.

“I’ll be back. I’ll go back and train harder. It almost paid off.”

But the fifth-placed finish of the Irish men’s 4x400m relay team saw them smash their own record from 24 hours earlier by a full two seconds.

Brian Gregan, 800m bronze-medallist Mark English, Richard Morrissey and Thomas Barr streaked to a new national record of 3:01.67 as Britain took gold ahead of Russia and Poland.

The Irish team are pressing to be kept together for future events, including Rio 2016.

Gregan commented: “Quite something. It had been a 12-year-old record, and then followed by a 12-hour-old record.

“Being the first leg, I knew it was basically another individual final on my hands, and I wanted to make sure I gave the baton to Mark as quickly as possible. We worked it conservatively, but it was fine.”

400m hurdles semi-finalist Barr said: “I had been giving out about my season and giving out about my semi-final.

“But there’s not many people who can say they’ve come away from a season with two national records each in two events.

“We have a ridiculously good team now. On the day, we came out and did it our best.

“We came home nice and strong and got the record again.”

Daniele Meucci won the men's marathon for Italy ahead of Yared Shegumo of Poland and Aleksey Reunkov of Russia, taking his chance with less than ten kilometres to go to win in two hours, 11 minutes, 8 seconds.

With Paul Pollock out injured, the three Irish involved all finished in the top half. Sean Hehir (from Rathfarnham WSAF) was 20th in 2 hours 17 minutes 59 seconds, Kevin Seaward (St Malachy's Belfast) 28th in 2:20:30, and Thomas Frazer (St Malachy's Belfast) 35th in 2:22:32.

Hehir said afterwards: "I'm delighted with this time. It was very sad that Paul Pollock couldn't make it as he did his best until the last minute to make it to the start line but realised last night it couldn't happen. I have to pay tribute to my coach Dick Hooper and my club in Rathfarnham WSAF, and so many people who helped me get this far. And look at yesterday's winner aged 39 in the women's marathon and the great Viktor Rothin in it today at 40. It's not a young man's game!"

The men’s 4x400m relay was one of five gold medals won by Britain on the final day, including both 4x100m relays, Mo Farah in the men’s 5000m final, Greg Rutherford in the men’s long jump.

Britain were helped in the women’s 4x100m relay by both Switzerland and the Netherlands dropping their batons.

Spain’s Ruth Beitia won the women’s high jump by being the only athlete to clear two metres.


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