Athletics: Superb Gregan on glory trail
The unfortunate disqualification of Ireland's 400m record holder Joanne Cuddihy cast a shadow over an otherwise rewarding opening day for the Irish at the European Championships, as Brian Gregan stole the show with an inspired race in the 400m.
Things were progressing wonderfully well for the Irish in the old Olympic Stadium in Helsinki with four athletes having qualified for the semi-finals until Cuddihy seemed to lose her concentration along the finishing straight and was disqualified almost instantly.
It was a fate that had previously been inflicted on seven other athletes -- all in the 400m -- including Britain's gold medal hope Richard Buck, a heat winner in 45.83.
Cuddihy appealed the disqualification, but it was thrown out straight away. "Coming off the last bend I felt good and decided to go for it, but for whatever reason I almost tripped outside my lane. I knew straight away I was in trouble and I have no excuses," she said.
The Irish team were in great spirits after Gregan ran a superb race to claim an impressive victory in his heat of the 400m with a time of 45.63 seconds, which was not alone a personal best, but the fastest of all the 16 qualifiers for today's semi-finals. It makes him a fancy by many to get a medal in tomorrow night's final. Indeed the morning session belonged to Gregan, the 22-year-old from Tallaght, as he ran with a silky stride to enjoy that special feeling of dominance all the way down the home straight, showing his opponents a clean pair of heels.
Considering the bad luck and illness problems which Gregan has encountered over the last couple of years, it was understandable that he should feel so happy about how it all turned out for him. "I'm just delighted, but also a little surprised," said the lanky Dubliner who is now set to challenge for a medal in tomorrow's final provided things go as planned in today's semi-final.
"I have been really ill with gastroenteritis and also had the pressure of examinations. I never stopped training, but I was only ticking over, so I'm just delighted. It felt easy coming down the finishing straight and felt as if I was floating."
This runs gives Gregan extra hope of getting the London Olympic standard of 45.30. "I'm getting closer. Of course it's in the back of my mind and there will be no holding back in those semi-finals."
The running from Gregan was followed up by a superb double family show from Thomas Barr of Ferrybank AC and his sister Jessie, both advancing to the semi-finals of 400m hurdles today.
"There is more there, if I can get that stride pattern right. The bend is very strange," said Jessie looking remarkably fresh despite her big effort when finishing third in 56.30.
"The bend seems unusually long, but with a very tight curve and that kind of throws you wide. I really had to concentrate. So I was a little apprehensive."
There was more cheer for the Irish when the courageous Jason Smyth survived some tough competition to come through his heat of the 100m and contest the semi-finals last night when he was up against the title holder, Christopher Lemaitre of France, who proved supreme in 10.14 with the Irishman seventh in 10.52.
However, there was no joy for Amy Foster in the heats of the women's 100m, eliminated when seventh in 11.55, while Jason Harvey failed to measure up to the challenge of his heat in the 400m hurdles, finishing fifth in 51.83.
IRISH IN ACTION TODAY
Tori Pena, Pole Vault, 7.05am (Irish time)
Jessie Barr, 400m H semi-final, 8.30am
Stephanie Reilly, 3,000m SC heats, 9.40am
Thomas Barr, 400m H semi-final, 11.15am
Brian Gregan, 400m semi-final, 4.40pm
European Athletics C'ships,
Live, RTE 2, 4.30