Sunday 17 December 2017

Gregan bloodied but unbowed as nasty injury leaves sour taste

Cliona Foley in Gothenburg

IRELAND had only won 13 medals since the inaugural European Indoor Championships in 1970, so two bronze medals was a respectable haul from Gothenburg.

Only once before did they bring home a brace of medals, in 2005, when David Gillick and Alistair Cragg both won gold.

Yet the painful truth is that they should have come away with three, if not four. Derval O'Rourke couldn't have done more, running her fastest indoor time in seven years, yet was pipped for bronze by one hundredth of a second. And Brian Gregan's missed opportunity in the 400m was definitely another one that got away. He was badly spiked in his semi-final – he needed nine stitches in his ankle afterwards – but the big Dubliner's reaction was remarkably sanguine.

Yes, he admitted he was "p***ed," but his strategy of deliberately breaking third at the end of the stagger, convinced that he could outsprint the two men in front of him – reigning outdoor champion Pavel Maslak and Britain's Nigel Levine – over the final 100m, was high risk.

Okay, there was no legislating for a Ukrainian leaving his ankle looking like it had been clawed by a tiger, but indoor 400s are all about power and aggression. As Gillick knows, the jostling at the break can be messier than any crowded football goalmouth.

If Gregan had cut in just a fraction earlier, and been a little more forceful in his approach, his weekend could have ended differently.

To see Maslak and Levine taking gold and silver yesterday in a blistering new Czech record of 45.66 and 46.21 respectively only added to the 'what ifs?', especially as Russia's Pavel Trenikhin survived a late ankle clip to take bronze in 46.70.

Fortunately for Gregan, there was no serious damage to his ankle and he bullishly insisted his bad luck will only increase his motivation. "It's a bit s****y but these things happen in indoor racing," he said. "Outdoors that's not going to happen. I'll beat a lot of these guys outdoors, no one's going to stop me."

While Gregan's inexperience proved costly, it was particularly heartening to see Leevale's Ciaran O'Lionaird (pictured) recover his form.

He was initially disappointed to only come away with 3,000m bronze (in a personal best of 7:50.40), especially as Spain's Juan Carlos Higuero came from behind to pip him for silver.

But the Cork runner, who threw his toys out of the pram so publicly last summer when he ran the Olympics injured, returned with a humility and perspective that did him great credit.

A deeply emotional athlete, he admitted that London forced him to learn to control his emotions. "It forced me to change my mentality and be a little bit more controlled," he said.

"I think I needed to take that hit at some stage in my career. It was a s****y place to do it, in the spotlight like that, but I've great people who support me. I could have carried myself better in my post-race interview, no doubt about that, but that's another learning experience.

"You see that now, I'm happy but I'm not jumping for joy or anything because I've three more years to Rio and I've a lot more to accomplish."

He talked of "dark, rainy, lonely days" since, and his epiphany included a training session on New Year's Day, when his Oregon training partners were all tucked up with their families while his coach put him through a series of multi-paced 400m repetitions.

"I got through that session, and went, 'wow, I'm not emotionally attached anymore, I'm just taking care of business,'" he recalled.

"When I see what my mum goes through, especially in the recession, my work is a piece of cake. I've been given gifts that allow me to go out and compete but I have to be smart with them."

He opted for 3,000m in Sweden because he'd done no speed work to allow his Achilles to fully recover, but he will specialise in 1,500m again now and run more 800m races this summer to sharpen up and make the final at World Championships in Moscow.

"It's my time now to start winning these medals. I really believe that Irish middle-distance history shows we can compete at world-class level."

Irish Independent

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