Championship time again, and Darragh McElhinney is talking up his prospects in Istanbul. If his last race is anything to go by – a 25-second last lap to win the Irish indoor 3,000m title – finishing speed shouldn’t be an issue, provided he’s there to unleash it.
“I think I’m in just as good shape if not better than a lot of guys who are ranked higher,” he says, “so I don’t think there’s any reason the race should get away from me. If I get a spare ride, to the last km, I’ll be able to close as well as any of them.”
With that McElhinney promptly corrects himself. “Well, apart from Ingebrigtsen.”
Indeed he’s not alone on that front: the 37th edition of the European Indoor Championships, which get under way at the Atakoy Arena west of Istanbul on Thursday afternoon, has Jakob Ingebrigtsen seeking to win European senior title number 10, to sit alongside his Olympic title, World Championship title, etc.
McElhinney and Ingebrigtsen are both 22, though no athlete in history has ever achieved what the Norwegian has at that age: with two European outdoor doubles over 1,500m-5,000m, two European cross-country titles, two European Indoor 3,000m titles and another over 1,500m, his only senior loss came in 2019, when he won silver in Glasgow over 1,500m.
Ingebrigtsen will attempt another 1,500m-3,000m double here, and unless he falls will surely succeed; for McElhinney there’s a different motivation, given his last two European championship appearances fell apart in another way.
First, at the European Championships in Munich last August, McElhinney was lying eighth at the bell lap over 5,000m, pressing to place even higher, before the wheels blew off and he finished 16th; then, at the European Cross-Country in Turin last December, looking to improve on the silver medal won in the Under-23 race in 2021, the wheels and doors blew off, and he finished 27th.
“Munich, I don’t have any regrets,” says the Glengarriff athlete. “And I didn’t dwell on Turin too much. As a predominantly track runner, who runs cross country, some years you’re going to be lucky with a course that will suit you. I had that with Dublin, it was relatively flat with good running in large parts. But other times you go to courses that favours the true cross-country heads and I don’t think that’s me the last few years.
“I went out with the early pace, had it been a flatter course with firm underfoot conditions, I’d have been able to hold on to a degree, but the way it worked out was that when I went over the red line, the blow-up was fairly spectacular. It chewed me up and spat me out.”
Ingebrigtsen is one of seven reigning Olympic champions from Tokyo, along with 18 individual gold medallists from Munich. The 1,500m heats and final are up first (Thursday and Friday), the 3,000m heats set for Saturday morning, which means McElhinney should at least be the fresher, again provided he’s there to unleash his kick.
Mark English certainly knows he can. Now 29, the Donegal doctor returns to the same stage where he’s twice won medals before over 800m – bronze four years ago in Glasgow, silver before that in Prague in 2015. English is also a two-time European medal winner outdoors, the latest coming in Munich, having also won bronze in Zurich back in 2014.
In the absence of Ciara Mageean, who like English won bronze (over 1,500m) in Glasgow in 2019, and silver in Munich last August (cutting short her indoor season due to lack of race fitness), plus Rhasidat Adeleke, committed to the University of Texas and the NCAA championships next weekend, English will lead that Irish medal charge.
Since Munich he’s taken another break from his medical profession, and in a wide-open race – especially given the absence of Spain’s Mariano Garcia, European champion outdoors and World Champion indoors – getting into the six-man final will be the least of his ambitions.
After equalling his second fastest indoor time last week, running 1:46.57 in Madrid, English looks primed and super-experienced, although five entries have run 1:45 this season, led by the young Belgian Tibo De Smet with his 1:45.04. English has the experience though, and four European medals as proof.
So to Andrew Coscoran and Luke McCann. Before last Saturday, they weren’t being mentioned as medal contenders among the Irish team of 15, only for the World Indoor final in Birmingham to change all that – Coscoran improving both the Irish indoor and outdoor 1,500m with a stunning time of 3:33.49.
These were two of the longest-standing records in Irish athletics, Ray Flynn’s outdoor mark of 3:33.5 going back 41 years, the previous indoor mark of 3:35.4 belonging to Marcus O’Sullivan since 1988.
Coscoran nailed third in that superfast race, McCann also running a whopping new lifetime best of 3:34.76. Neil Gourley won in a British record of 3:32.48, and certainly has the finishing speed to challenge Ingebrigtsen, once again provided he’s there to unleash it.
Israel Olatunde, now undisputed as Ireland’s fastest man after lowing the 60m indoor mark to 6.57 when defending his national title, also has the Olympic champion to contend with, the Italian Marcell Jacobs, who has a best of 6.54. Olatunde is ranked eighth, a final spot clearly within reach if he can go the rounds, Britain’s Reece Prescod the fastest this season with his 6.49.
Ireland squad for European Indoor Athletics Championships, Istanbul, March 2nd-5th
60m: Israel Olatunde (UCD); 800m: Mark English (UCD), John Fitzsimons (Kildare); 1,500m: Andrew Coscoran (Star of the Sea), Luke McCann (UCD); 3,000m: Darragh McElhinney (UCD).
60m: Joan Healy (Leevale); 60m H: Sarah Lavin (Emerald); Pentathlon: Kate O’Connor (Dundalk St Gerards); 400m & 4x400m: Sharlene Mawdsley (Newport), Sophie Becker (Raheny Shamrocks), Cliodhna Manning (Kilkenny City Harriers); 4x400m: Phil Healy (Bandon), Miriam Daly (Carrick-on-Suir), Niamh Murray (Bray Runners).
Irish in action on Thursday
(All times Irish)
4.0pm: Men’s 800m heats (Mark English, John Fitzsimons)
6.05pm: Men’s 1,500m heats (Andrew Coscoran, Luke McCann)