Athletics: Gillick aims to build on great outdoor promise
DAVID Gillick is desperately hoping that Jonathan Borlee does not add his name this week to that oft-quoted and eclectic list that includes Eddie Merckx, Audrey Hepburn and Hercule Poirot.
As a popular drinking game demonstrates, the world isn't exactly coming down with famous Belgians, but Borlee has a great chance to put himself among them at the 20th European Championships in Barcelona.
Even the organisers are tipping the men's 400m to be one of the events of these championships and, of the entrants, only Borlee (44.77) has run faster this summer than Ireland's two-time European indoor champion (2005/2007).
The fact that Gillick's Loughborough training partner Martyn Rooney is the only other sub-45-second man this season, and that the field also includes Borlee's twin Kevin, Britain's 2009 world finalist Michael Bingham, French danger man Leslie Djhone and a couple more dark horses, only adds to the intrigue.
After his indoor heroics, Dundrum South Dublin star Gillick finally came good on his promise outdoors last August, when he became the first Irishman to break the magic 45-seconds mark and subsequently finished sixth in the World Championships in Berlin.
Yet he got another bitter dose of the 'what ifs' when he got into a jostling match, finished fifth, and was subsequently disqualified at the World Indoor Championships last March.
That replicated his fall at the European Indoors a year ago, which undoubtedly fired him up for Berlin, so his 'disaster in Doha' could yet have a pay-off.
Gillick certainly looks to have moved up another step this summer. He broke 45 seconds three times last year but, significantly, did it twice in five days last month, and his season best of 44.95 was on the same Olympic Stadium track that hosts these championships.
Gillick's bid to win his first outdoor medal starts in earnest in this morning's third 400m heat. Even with four automatic qualifiers from each of the five heats, he will not be holding back as lane draws can make or break a 400m champion, and winning his heat will guarantee him a good semi-final lane.
There was a sharp intake of breath when he didn't run the Irish Championships recently but it was only precautionary and, for once, Gillick seems to be wearing his 'medal favourite' tag lightly.
"It's better to be going in as one of the favourites rather than people saying I've no chance," he admits, professing to have lightened up on himself mentally in the past year.
Sports psychologists regularly refer to 'paralysis by analysis' and Gillick, despite his affable exterior, seemed infected by that at the 2007 World Championships and especially at the 2008 Olympics when he failed to get out of his heat.
To stay relaxed, he preferred to stay training in Loughborough rather than join Ireland's pre-championship camp in Murcia and only arrived in Barcelona on Saturday. He undoubtedly has the work done and is Ireland's top medal prospect on the track. It's now his mental fortitude that will be most tested in the next four days.
Two other Irishmen also contest this morning's 400m heats. Tullamore Harrier's Irish champion Gordon Kennedy (29) is back in his first 'major' since the Sydney Olympics with a 46.57 season best and his first heat includes Rooney and Kevin Borlee.
Clonliffe's Brian Gregan (20) is seen as Gillick's heir apparent but injury has disrupted his preparations and, like Kennedy, he'll have to run the race of his life in heat four just to nick one of the four fastest-loser qualifying spots.
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