Ciaran O Lionaird caps great morning for Irish with superb victory in 3000m heats
AN excellent first morning for the Irish at the European Indoor athletics championships culminated with a brilliant run from Ciaran O'Lionaird in the 3000m heats.
Eyebrows were raised when the Leevale star, who has the fastest 1500m time in Europe this year, opted for the longer distance in Gothenburg.
But the 24-year-old from Cork really showcased his world-class speed when winning his heat in 7:55.12 with a performance that really indicates he will really be a serious medal contender in tomorrow's final.
After biding his time in a busy heat that was strung out out early on by Turkey's Polat Arikan and then got bunched with three laps remaining, O'Lionaird intelligently bided his time in the pack. Then, with 300m to go, put the boot down and passed France's Florence Carvalho with consummate ease, to go 10 metres clear of the field with just a few strides.
From there he was never going to be beaten and could afford to ease off in the final straight and Carvalho, Arikan and Norway's European 1500m and cross-country champion Henrik Ingebrigsten getting up to take the remaining automatic qualifying spots.
Belfast's Stephen Scullion, who made a brave effort in the same race and led it after 2,200m faded over the final few laps to finish eighth in 8:00:78 but the fastest 'loser' to get through to the final from the two heats ran 7:59.17 so, after a nailbiting wait, the Strawberry Hill studen was just edged out.
Donore's John Travers was even more disappointed, leading the second heat in the early stages but subsequently dying a death to trail in last, a most unexpected position for the Athlone IT student, even if it was his Irish senior debut.
Azerbijan's Hayle Ibrahimov (an ex-Ethiopian) put in one of his trademark blistering runs to win that second heat in 7:50.55, over four seconds faster than O'Lioniard to indicate that he too will be one to watch in tomorrow's final.