Thursday 23 November 2017

Ciaran Ó Lionáird's eyes fixed on European finals prize

Ciaran Ó Lionáird
Ciaran Ó Lionáird

Cathal Dennehy in Zurich

For Ciarán Ó Lionáird and Paul Robinson, the path to today’s European 1,500m final (2.05pm) has taken them on two very different journeys. Both athletes, though, will toe the line in Zurich’s Letzigrund Stadium this afternoon with a well-founded belief that a medal is there for the taking.

“There’s nothing there that scares me,” says Ó Lionáird, who was a world finalist over 1,500m in 2011. “There’s not a lot in it between the main contenders. It’s going to be hard, but I’m in really good shape. I think there’s a big one in me.”

For Ó Lionáird to have even made it to a European final just 10 months after surgery has been a victory in itself. Not that that will be enough for the 26-year-old.

His journey back to fitness has not been a smooth one. “It was March before I got back to full training,” he says. “I had no foundation built so it took double to time to recover from hard sessions. You take six months off like I did last year and your body becomes accustomed to not training. I had to take nine days off in June, but since then I’ve had a clean run. I’m getting better with each week.”

Since making it back to this level, Ó Lionáird has come to understand just how much he needs to enjoy moments like these — being fit, healthy, and running for your country in a major championship final with a reasonable chance of taking home a medal. “I definitely have more of an appreciation for it now,” he says. “Before, I didn’t have any respect for just getting to a championship, which in some respects can be a good thing but there’s a lot to be said for coming back from surgery, coming here and being competitive.”

Ó Lionáird has been an established name in Irish sport since his bronze medal over 3,000m at the European Indoor Championships last year, but for Paul Robinson, today’s final could just be the race where he makes his first major mark at senior level.

The 23-year-old from Kilcock is renowned for his finishing speed, an asset that could prove vital in today’s final. Robinson disappointed in his senior championship debut over 800m at the World Championships in Moscow last summer, swiftly eliminated in the first round, but the lessons learned there may well to stand to him today.

In his qualifying heat, Robinson expertly navigated congested traffic on several occasions, positioned himself perfectly during the final lap and kicked on down the home straight to secure automatic qualification. It was a run executed with the wisdom of a seasoned veteran. Another performance like that and a medal could be his.

Indeed, he’ll need every ounce of speed this afternoon but Robinson believes he has the tools necessary to get the job done.

“If it was a 600-metre race, I’d be very, very confident in myself, so it all comes down to that. It’s all about putting yourself in the right positions and being switched on when it really starts going. Someone’s going to get a medal that you don’t expect, and hopefully that’s me.”

Meanwhile, Fionnuala Britton’s marathon debut saw her finish 10th yesterday in a fast-run race won by France’s Christelle Daunay in a time of 2.25.14.

“I suppose I didn’t know what to expect and I definitely didn’t expect that,” said Britton, who ran an impressively quick 2:31.46. “I heard coming in that the winning time was the fastest ever in Switzerland. I didn’t expect it to be that fast. I suppose I have to be happy enough with that, top ten. I went with the group because that’s what you have to do. I enjoyed it.”

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