Thursday 18 January 2018

One medal, lots of hope... and 
a crazy mascot cow

Mark English kisses his European Championships bronze medal on his return to Dublin Airport. Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
Mark English kisses his European Championships bronze medal on his return to Dublin Airport. Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

On this little island of ours we often lack perspective, especially about sport, but the latest European Championships provided plenty.

Here are 10 things we learned from the European Championships:

1. Zurich's only Irish-English 
medallist is the real deal

Mark English's 800m bronze was Ireland's first in European middle-distance in 36 years. He has the talent, the speed (46.56 for 400m), the brains and composure of a world-class half-miler and, at 21, the time to get even better. The first line of his Twitter handle is pretty cool too: "I'm actually Irish."

2. Athletics is as much mental as physical

After 12 years of being pipped for medals, often by drug cheats, Rob Heffernan became world champion last year and had not countenanced anything less than gold at Europeans. When he realised it wasn't going to happen, he folded. Tom Barr (22) didn't make the 400m hurdles decider (won in 48:96, slower than his PB), possibly because his young head was in the final before his body was.

3. We are terrible knockers sometimes

Some of the reaction to Heffernan dropping out of the walk was remorselessly negative. Few people in Irish sport have trained for so long, so hard or endured more physical pain than him. He will be haunted by this rare moment of weakness, but how many world champions have we ever had? Why are we so eager to immediately kick our heroes when they're down?

4. Swiss empathy outdid Swiss efficiency

Switzerland's sprint darling Mujinga Kambundji broke national records all week but dropped the relay baton at the start of the 4x100m final yet left the track to a standing ovation. An hour after the marathon a five-deep crowd was still cheering Viktor Rothlin (39), their former European champion, who had just finished fifth in his farewell run - not knocking him.

5. Long-distance is not ageist

The man who broke Heffernan's spirit by unexpectedly smashing the 50km world record was also 36. The first two in women's marathon were aged 39 and 38; 10,00m champion Jo Pavey will be 41 next month.

6. The future is young and bright

Take out the marathon runners and walkers and Ireland's team was, on average, 22-24. Bandon's Phil Healy (19) anchored the women's 4x100m to a new Irish record and the new men's relay record would have earned sixth in the London Olympic final. Paul Robinson, just pipped for 1500m bronze, is only 22.

7. Exceptions breed exceptions

There is a 'discretionary clause' in Athletics Ireland's selection policy that, arguably, invalidates all the rest of it. It leaves the selectors open to charges of favouritism. This clause was invoked to allow Fionnuala Britton late entry into the marathon team. By finishing 10th, with the fourth fastest time ever by an Irishwoman, her debut vindicated her selection. She didn't replace another athlete so no harm was done - this time.

8. The Russians were decidedly un-Russian

There was a conspicuous drop in Russian standards. The Russians were only third overall behind Britain and France. Drug-testing has levelled the playing field.

9. Controversy sells

Anyone who knows anything about T&F wasn't surprised that it was Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad whose steeplechase gold was revoked for stripped off his shirt, but disqualifying him seemed harsh, especially when the man promoted to bronze failed a drugs test 11 months ago.

10. A funny mascot can soften the blow to your wallet

Tickets for evening sessions went from €35 to €90 but Cooly, the official mascot, who ran hurdles against Colin Jackson, pole-vaulted, tweeted and could out-twerk Miley Cyrus, was one #versatile #multi-eventing star.

Irish Independent

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