Despair for Paul Robinson as bronze medal slips away
PAUL Robinson cut a heartbroken figure after watching 1,500m bronze slip through his hands in the dying strides of one of the most incident-packed races in the 22nd European Championships.
Within seconds of crossing the line, the tall Kildare athlete's hands went to his head in despair. Later he hunkered down on his haunches in the mixed zone, trying to compose himself before facing the press.
"The last 30 metres... I had it and then it got taken away from me! I'm absolutely gutted," he exclaimed.
"I knew I was in third position but you can sense these things. I could sense my legs buckling, was doing everything to get to the end of the line, it's a blur."
His anguish was compounded because, at last year's European U-23 Championships, the St Coca's star had similarly been outsprinted and also finished in the most haunting place in sport: fourth.
"The exact same thing has happened this year and I was even closer this time," he reflected sadly. Robinson had put his life on hold to exorcise that pain, taking a year out of his economics, politics and law studies in DCU to train full-time for the Europeans.
After avoiding all the argy-bargy of a typically dramatic 1,500m final, he had put himself in the perfect position, moving off the top bend to take third place down the final straight, only to get beaten on the dip by Britain's Chris O'Hare. O'Hare took bronze in 3:46.18, less than two tenths of a second faster than his 3:46:35.
"I ran a 95 per cent perfect race," he reflected ruefully. "I thought I did everything right but I just didn't get it right with 20 metres to go."
The 22-year-old still showed impressive composure, making little of the clashes that saw four men, including Ciaran O Lionaird, taken down, three of them at the bell.
"That's championship racing, when you line up in a 1,500m you expect you're there for a fight. That's what it was," Robinson said.
"I did everything right, that's it, that's sport, I just didn't have it but I'll take confidence from it. I kicked down some really good people today."
O Lionaird reacted similarly; desolate at first and then philosophical, after getting badly spiked and taken out from behind at the 600m mark.
He had just moved into the lead and recovered momentarily from the first clip but went down after getting hit again immediately.
"I (initially) felt it on my right hamstring, and then someone stood on my left (Achilles) tendon," the Leevale star explained. "My hamstring instantly pulled with a cramp-type pain and I was thrown off kilter. I tried to ignore it but just couldn't."
The former world finalist admitted that he was probably not as race-sharp as he needed to be as a result of Achilles surgery a year ago from which he had battled back to full fitness.
But O Lionaird also showed maturity, saying: "It's disappointing, you feel hard done by, but that's the sport, that's racing. I'm sure I'll be better for the experience."
Ireland submitted an unsuccessful appeal but the result stood.
Gold was won, as if by destiny, by the man controversially stripped of the steeplechase title for stripping himself while coasting to that victory.
When Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad kicked for home this time he kept his shirt on and no one could catch him.
Athletics' new bad boy still couldn't resist another bit of showboating as he left Norway's defending champion Henrik Ingebrigsten to take silver in 3:46.10. Some of the crowd booed loudly at his latest unsporting gestures after he crossed the line in 3:45.60.
The controversial Frenchman wasn't remotely bothered and produced a Keanesque retort, saying: "People making noise do not understand anything about sport and just come here to eat some chips."
Ireland's relay men later smashed the Irish record - that they'd only set the previous day - when finishing fifth in the 4x400m final.
Brian Gregan, Brian Murphy, Richard Morrissey and Thomas Barr had lowered the 2002 record of 3:03.73 to 3:03:57 when third in their semi.
With Mark English replacing Murphy for the final, they absolutely obliterated that, knocking almost a full two seconds off it. The new 3:01.67 record came off splits of 45:7 (Gregan), 45:0 (English), 45:55 (Morrissey) and 45:31 from Barr.
"It was a 12-year-record initially, then it was 12 hours (long), and now it's gone by two seconds! We're absolutely delighted," said Gregan, paying tribute to Crusaders' veteran Murphy for his part also.
"To run 3:01, that's serious running, that's not far off making an Olympic final either. The four of us today average about 23 years of age so we've got a long, long way to go," he added.
Clare primary school teacher Sean Hehir (Rathfarnham) surpassed expectations by finishing 20th in the marathon in 2:17.59, less than 30 seconds off his personal best.
Italy's Daniele Meucci won in 2:11.08 but Hehir was thrilled, saying: "On paper I wouldn't have been top 20 here today, not even top 50 maybe, but this is championship running and you don't have to be the fastest man in the field to deliver."
Kevin Seaward did well too to finish 28th (2:20.30) and his St Malachy's clubmate Thomas Frazer was 35th (2:22:33) of the 50 of 70 who finished.