Athletics: Gillick displays medal intent after Smyth makes his mark
IRISH Paralympics star Jason Smyth (23) bowed out of the European Championships last night but with another performance that established the legitimacy of his ambition to become a world-class international sprinter.
Despite sharing the track again with the new 'white hope' of sprinting, the laid-back Derryman again exceeded expectations by finishing fourth in his 100m semi-final.
While he ran 10.46 seconds to Christophe Lemaitre's winning time of 10.06, Smyth was delighted with his position, having gone into the race ranked fifth.
His family, though, missed all the hype as they are in Florida.
"My two younger sisters didn't want to come watch me race for their holidays," he joked but, if so, they were among the exceptions.
Rising French star Lemaitre finished the night as new European champion, taking gold in 10.11 ahead of Britain's Mark Lewis-Francis and French team-mate Martial Mbandjock (both given 10.18). But after their semi-final, Smyth was pulled into a TV booth trackside and interviewed right beside Lemaitre.
Yet the chilled sprinter, who took double Paralympic gold in 2008 in his partially sighted category, was totally unfazed by all the attention.
"Obviously it's very nice but generally I get on with it and let people say what they want to say," he said.
"I train with Tyson Gay and it's really not that big a deal, where other people would get scared.
"I don't mind what way people remember me but I'm coming here and performing well as a mainstream senior international and I'm trying to move forward to qualify for London 2012.
"At the same time, I am a Paralympic athlete, so you've also got to look at that as well I suppose."
Another Irish athlete set to create a big impression in Catalonia after last night's blistering 400m semi-finals is David Gillick. His beautifully paced semi-final win in a season best 44.79 (two hundredths of a second off his Irish record) earned him lane four in tomorrow's final. As expected, Britain's Michael Bingham came late to try to overtake him but Gillick's response indicated he's in the best shape of his life.
"It's just about executing my potential and if that gets me a gold, silver or bronze, I'll take it," he said.
His biggest threat, Jonathan Borlee, ominously set another new Belgian record of 44.71 in the first semi-final, where Martyn Rooney's 45 seconds flat got him through as a 'fastest loser'.
Another delighted Irish athlete was national 100m record-holder Ailis McSweeney, who finished fourth in her heat in 11.52 to nab a 'fastest loser' spot in today's semi-finals, just reward for taking seven months off her work as a solicitor to prepare. "It was a case of doing well or go stick to the day job forever, so making a semi means everything to me," she said.
Steeplechaser Fionnuala Britton was rewarded for her three months of training at altitude in Kenya with sixth place and a time of 9.44.84 that got her into tomorrow's final.
In the 1,500m heats, where 3:42.40 qualified, Thomas Chamney got boxed in and could only manage ninth in 3:43.60 and Rory Chesser (Ennis) bowed out in 10th place with 3:44.01.
Joanne Cuddihy was fourth in the only sub-51 women's 400m semi-final but her time (52.58) was 0.22 seconds short of getting through.
After reaching his first 'major' 400m semi-final, Gordon Kennedy finished last in 46.72. Newcomer Tori Pena equalled her recent 4.15m Irish pole vault record but failed at 4.25, 10cm short of qualifying and Stephanie O'Reilly (Sli Cualann) finished last in her steeplechase heat in 10:13.94.
Live RTE2 7.0pm; BBC2 9.30am, 5.30pm; Europsport 9.0am, 4.30pm
Irish In Action Today (all Irish times).
10.30 -- Men's 200m heats: Steven Colvert (10.46), Paul Hession (10.54).
17.45 -- Men's 5,000m semi-finals: Alistair Cragg (17.45), Mark Christie (18.05).
18.55 -- Men's 200m semi-finals: Hession, Colvert
19.20 -- Women's 100m semi-finals: Ailis McSweeney (19.28).
19.50 - Men's 800m semi-finals: David McCarthy (19.58).