Athletics: Red-hot Gregan has medal in sights
Brian Gregan delivered on the promise he showed in reaching the world junior final in 2008 by battling through to the 400m decider at the European Championships in Helsinki yesterday.
Gregan had won his heat the previous day in a lifetime best of 45.63 and proved that this was no flash in the pan with a determined semi-final run to claim the second automatic qualifying place with a time of 45.76.
It was a hard race and it clearly took quite a bit out of Gregan as he fought tooth and nail to hang on to second place. However, it was a measure of the quality of the contest that the runners who finished third and fourth also qualified for the final -- which will include Britain's Richard Buck, who successfully appealed his disqualification on Wednesday.
It took a few minutes before Gregan recovered his composure. "I'm happy with that -- I got the job done, which is what these championships are all about," said the Clonliffe Harrier from Tallaght.
"I have to be happy with things considering the illness I've had in recent weeks, but I did the work and that stood to me there.
"It was a right old battle between the three of us down the home straight, but I was determined to keep my place and it feels very good.
"Now I want to get out there and do the same in the final."
Gregan will probably have to muster another lifetime-best performance if he is to get on the rostrum. However, the Dubliner is a really battle-hardened challenger, who seems to produce the goods when the chips are down.
He has been allocated a favourable lane 5 for tonight's final. Paval Maslak of the Czech Republic is in four, while Buck of Britain is right on the outside in lane eight.
There was more joy for the Barr family from Ferrybank yesterday, with Jessie maintaining her challenge when qualifying for the final of the women's 400m hurdles with a well-timed run to finish a fighting fourth in her semi-final.
Her brother Thomas missed out on making the men's final, but he ran his fastest time of the season in fifth place, a highly commendable 50.22 seconds.
Jessie might well have bowed out too, but she somehow found fresh reserves in tired legs along the finishing straight to come home fourth in 55.93, a personal best that got her into the final as one of the two fastest losers -- and she did not hide her joy at the achievement.
"I just scraped in, but I'm absolutely over the moon with that," she said excitedly, still feeling that she has a chance of making the Olympic standard of 55.60.
"I had a difficult lane on the outside and I was so nervous, but I could not have asked for more. Now it's onwards and upwards for the final."
Her brother might well have broken 50 seconds and won a place in the final, but lost his rhythm halfway down the back straight. He, too, managed to find fresh legs to hit the line at top speed, but his time was not quite good enough.
Ireland's American-born pole vaulter Tori Pena made a promising start to her event with steady clearances up to 4.35m, which she cleared on her final effort.
But then the wheels then came off for the Los Angeles student and three failures at 4.35m left her packing her bags. However, Pena, who has Donegal roots, has already qualified for London.
Another American-based Irishwoman, Stephanie Reilly, displayed conviction in her heat of the women's 3,000m steeplechase and came through for fifth place with a time of 9:44.15, which was her fastest time for over a year and earned her a place in tomorrow's final.
Meanwhile, a 49-strong team will represent Ireland at the Paralympic Games. The squad, drawn from 20 different counties, will compete across 10 sports at the London Games. It is the largest Irish team since Atlanta 1996.
The 2012 Irish Paralympic team contains five reigning world champions in athletics and cycling and two defending Paralympic champions, athletes Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop.
For the first time ever, Ireland will compete in shooting and rowing at a Paralympic Games.
IRISH IN ACTION TODAY
Steven Colvert, 200m heats, 10.30am (Irish time). Semi-final 6.25.
Paul Hession, 200m heats.
Amy Foster, 200m heats, 12.0. Semi-final 6.55.
Jessie Barr, 400m Hurdles Final, 6.0.
Brian Gregan, (Clonliffe Harriers AC), 400m Final, 7.25.
Live, Eurosport, 7.0am; RTE2, 6.0pm