Friday 15 December 2017

Athletics: Gillick won't let his date with destiny slip

Ireland's Alistair Cragg leads the field during his heat of the Men's 5000m where he finished in 6th place in a time of 13:37.66 and qualified for the final.
Ireland's Alistair Cragg leads the field during his heat of the Men's 5000m where he finished in 6th place in a time of 13:37.66 and qualified for the final.
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

BARCELONèS of all ages have been protesting on the streets this week because bull-fighting has just been banned in Catalonia.

But if it's enthralling sporting theatre they crave, they should drop their placards and get up Montjuic hill tonight to watch the European 400m final (20.25 Irish time).

A cloudy day, followed by the massive thunderstorm that disrupted last night's track session, put paid to David Gillick's plans to head to the beach yesterday to chill out before entering the maelstrom. The Dubliner has been striving to find any distraction possible in order to remain relaxed in the build-up to what is undoubtedly the biggest race of his life.

Ireland's two-time European indoor champion finished sixth in last year's World Championships, but no one was expecting him to collect a medal then.

Here, the pressure on him is immense to produce a first medal for the 33-strong Irish team still reeling from Olive Loughnane's disappointment.

Gillick is one of the athletes pictured on the cover of the official championship programme and it contains a 400m preview centred solely on the 27-year-old from Ballinteer.

It clearly went to print before a lithe Belgian called Jonathan Borlee overtook him in this summer's European rankings. Borlee (22) was the 2009 US collegiate champion and he is undoubtedly Gillick's biggest threat after lowering his European leading time, and Belgian record, to 44.71 seconds in Wednesday's semi-finals.

Gillick brazenly threw the gauntlet right back at him, winning the next semi in 44.79 (0.02secs off his Irish record) which, crucially, also clinched him lane four for the final.

He will step on to the track tonight repeating the mantra of his quietly-spoken Loughborough coach Nick Dakin: "Discipline in the blocks, then control it and keep your shoulders down."

All his trials, tribulation and sacrifices are on the line tonight, but the DSD star is also hoping they'll also now stand to him.

"I have been through a lot of ups and downs and you learn so much over the years and over the championships. One of the (main) things you learn is that you just need to stay relaxed," he says.

He may yet need to break his 44.77 Irish record to get any medal at all because the field is absolutely smokin'.

Britain's Michael Bingham (seventh behind him at the Worlds) seems unlucky to have got lane eight.


Gillick's British training partner Martyn Rooney, a finalist in Beijing, got his tactics all wrong in the semis, which also earned him a bad draw (in lane one), but Leslie Djhone, on Gillick's right, was fifth in the last Olympics and is the field's real wild card.

According to the Belgian media, the Borlee camp believe they'll have to run 44.60 to beat DSD's green machine, who himself says simply: "I have worked too hard to let it slip by. I have punched that bag so many times, it's just a case now of letting it flow."

Whatever happens, Ireland's medal hopes won't die tonight because Derval O'Rourke, who took European silver in 2006, slips in from the wings in this morning's 100m hurdles heats.

Defending champion Susanna Kallur is out injured, but Europe's top two on rankings -- Caroline Nytra and Lucie Skrobokova -- are in O'Rourke's third heat, from which she should still comfortably qualify.

After his heartbreaking fourth in the 20km walk, Robert Heffernan has surprisingly decided to also race today's 50km final, despite having raced the gruelling distance only once.

But his time, an Irish record (3:50.08), ranks him third in Europe this season, so it's worth a gamble.

Today's other Irish finalist is Wicklow steeplechaser Fionnuala Britton (Sli Cualann), who did well to qualify, but will not be able for the pace of Poland's Wioletta Frankiewicz and two-time 5,000m champion Marta Dominguez (34), the local heroine who shocked everyone by winning the world steeplechase last year.

European Championships

Live, RTE2 6.0pm, BBC2 10.0am, 5.15pm; Eurosport 6.30am, 5.15pm

IRISH IN ACTION TODAY (all Irish times).

6.35 -- Men's 50km walk final: Robert Heffernan.

9.0 -- Women's 100m hurdles heats: Derval O'Rourke (ht 3, 9.16).

9.05 -- Women's high jump qualifying: Deirdre Ryan (Group B).

11.20 -- Women's 200m heats: Niamh Whelan (ht 1, 11.20).

18.0 -- Women's 200m semi-finals.

18:25 -- Men's 200m final: Paul Hession.

19:25 -- Women's steeplechase final: Fionnuala Britton.

20:25 -- Men's 400m final: David Gillick.

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