Ciaran O'Lionaird takes bronze for Ireland in Gothenburg
IT WASN'T the colour he wanted but Cork runner Ciaran O'Lionaird finally got his first major championship medal when he took bronze in the 3000m at the European Indoor Championships.
The US-based Leevale star had come to Gothenburg with his heart set on gold and was in silver medal position for most of the home straight but Spain's Juan Carlos Hiquero overtook him just before the finish-line and he had to settle for bronze.
"I’d rather have run for gold, and got bronze, like I did, than run for silver and got silver so, I’m not elated," he admitted."But it is satisfying, and something to move forward with, for sure.”
His plan was to break to the front at the bell when he moved up smoothly into second but he was always fronted by Azerbaijan's Hayle Ibrahimov, the reigning silver medallist who totally controlled the final third of the race and took gold in 7:49.74.
O'Lionaird threw everything he could at the former Ethiopian runner down the back straight, with France's directly Simon Denissel behind him.
But, in the dying strides of the race, it was 34-year-old Higuero, a multiple medallist and European and World level, who got up to pip him for silver.
O'Lionaird's immediate reaction was one of disappointment, grimacing to himself while he posed for photos.
But afterwards the 24-year-old from Macroom, whose Olympic experience was a disaster because of persistent Achilles problems, acknowledged that a medal of any colour was better than going home empty-handed.
"I think when Ibrahimov moved, I went right with him, maybe a little too soon, and the lactic build-up was a bit much coming into the home straight.
"Maybe if I’d held back a little I would have ben challenging Higuero for second. Who knows, maybe closing for first, but it’s easy to come back and pick those small things out at the end of a race. Overall, this is a positive step forward," he said.
"Coming back from last season’s disappointment this has given more some silverware, or rather some bronze-ware!" he added. "But it's kept me hungry certainly to come out and beat those guys later in the year. I’m satisfied, but I won't be going to bed tonight satisfied. I’m still angry, still motivated.”