Mageean's defiance secures final reward
The smile said it all. Ciara Mageean walked off the track at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam last night and tried to explain how much it meant to be back at this level, but more than her words, it was her expression which told the true story.
The former world junior silver medallist was absent from international competition for the last four years, her once-flourishing career derailed by chronic injury, but in a little over four minutes last night, she showed again why she was anointed as such a special talent.
"I missed it a lot," said Mageean, who cruised through to Sunday's European 1,500m final after finishing third in her heat in 4:13.61. "It just makes me stronger now to know what I came through. This is what I run for, to run in green, white and gold. I don't run for time trials or fast races. I run for championships."
Mageean ran towards the front of the pack for much of last night's heat, and when race favourite Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands injected a decisive surge with 300 metres to run, the Irishwoman was alive to the threat, navigating her way through traffic to go with the leaders.
"There was a lot of pushing, but that's what racing is about," said Mageean. "I enjoy that. You have to not let anyone push you over, stamp your claim in the race and let the other girls know you're there."
By now, her rivals are very much aware of Mageean's presence, and though Hassan and Poland's Angelika Cichocka may have little to fear from the UCD student on Sunday, a minor medal seems possible.
"It's a hot field," said Mageean. "It'll be hard to beat Hassan. I've proved this year I can do a good fast 800, so I know I have the speed in my legs."
Mageean's run capped a good day for the Irish, with three athletes advancing to Sunday's 3,000m steeplechase final for the first time at European Championships.
Michelle Finn turned in a season's best of 9:45.93 to finish sixth and advance on time, the Leevale athlete's cautious early strategy paying off on the final lap. "I was trying to stay wide and wanted to be the person passing towards the end, so I stayed mid-pack and was hoping I'd have enough energy," said Finn. "I feel remarkably good afterwards so we'll see what happens in the final."
Joining her there will be Sara Treacy and Kerry O'Flaherty. Treacy ran a lifetime best of 9:42.16 in the second heat to automatically qualify in fifth, while O'Flaherty advanced on time after placing sixth in 9:45.53.
"I know I had a PB in there, so it was nice to do it on this stage," said Treacy. "The big focus will be on maximising recovery and doing everything I can to be on the line in top shape. Hopefully, I can rise to the occasion on Sunday and compete with Europe's best."
There was no such joy for sprinters Amy Foster or Marcus Lawler. Foster bowed out after finishing seventh in her 100m semi-final in 11.62, while Lawler, drawn in a difficult lane one, exited after placing seventh in the 200m semi-final in 21.33.
Ben Reynolds was another to face elimination, his time of 13.87 for seventh place in the men's 110m hurdles heats not enough to see him through.
Christine McMahon, however, advanced through the opening round of the women's 400m hurdles after finishing fourth in 57.73. "I made one or two mistakes but the point is to get through and I did that," she said.
Elsewhere last night, Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands delighted the home crowd by powering to victory in the women's 100m final in 10.90 seconds. Compatriot Churandy Martina won the men's 200m gold in 20.37 before being disqualified for running out of his lane.