Well done, Ireland; a country that welcomes immigrants and a nation that has waved good-bye to countless emigrants for centuries while others have stuck out at home through thick and thin. The arrivals, the departures and remainers came together in perfect synchronicity yesterday to help Ireland to its best ever day at the European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon. Two individual and two team medals surpassed anything achieved before at a European Cross Country and bridged a four year gap since an Irish athlete trod the presentation podium.
And that welcoming attitude paid dividends when a refugee from Eritrea won a bronze medal for the country in the Junior Men’s team race. Two years ago, Efrem Gidey was languishing in the holding camp at Calais in France but yesterday he declared himself a proud Irish man standing alongside the all-conquering Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen on the medal podium of a continental championships.
Gidey was in the leading group from the opening lap and when the reigning European Senior 1500m/5000m champion Ingebrigtsen applied the pressure halfway through the 6225m event, the 19-year-old was only one of two men to respond. The Norwegian pulled away to away to seal his fourth consecutive by over half a minute while Gidey fought out the minor places with Turkey’s Ayetullah Aslanhan.
In the end the Turk won that battle by three seconds with Gidey seemingly would have been happier with a team medal than his own achievement but Ireland lost third place on countback after finishing on the same points as Portugal.
“I’m so happy,” he said. “Ireland is my country and means so much. I am doing it for Ireland because it is doing it for me. A good opportunity – I am learning English and I’m going to school.”
Gidey lives in Tyrellstown, a northern suburb of Dublin and is a member of Clonliffe Harriers. He is current Irish Schools cross country champion and recently won the Leinster Senior Men’s cross country title. Some thought he was ill-advised in running the recent National Senior at Abbotstown but finished ninth, helping Clonliffe regain the team title. He was sick last week and only got the all-clear to compete on Friday past when Athletics Ireland managed to secure a visa for him to enter Portugal.
Three young Irish woman who, like so many before them, went to the United States to further their education and running careers, supplied medals two and three. Cork’s Stephanie Cotter ran a well-timed race to take the individual bronze in the U23 race while further down the field the Tyrone twins, Eilish and Roisin Flanagan, battled hard to claim 9th and 17th respectively to put Ireland in the silver medal spot behind a strong Netherlands trio.
All three women attend Adams State University and agreed that they would not be where they are today were it not for the coaching and facilities made available to them in Alamosa, Colorado.
“I came off the NCAA season and I was very happy with it and I knew I was fit coming in here,” said Cotter. “I went out to win it but I knew Moller was strong, so I said I would go out in the top five and if there were any moves, I’d cover them. I think about the third lap, she put in a big surge and I wasn’t able to go with it. This season, I think Adams State has transformed me completely as a runner.”
For Eilish Flanagan, from the Tyrone hamlet of Gortin, it was her second European silver medal of the year after finishing runner-up in the U23 3000m steeplechase in the summer.
“It’s really hard to believe (two medals), it’s been a really amazing year for myself,” said Eilish Flanagan. “It’s something to bring home to Gortin, to the country and our small community. We are able to work well with our coach at Adams State and he has improved us every single year.”
There was almost a fairy-tale ending to the meeting with Fionnuala McCormack, an athlete who has plied her entire running trade at home, was narrowly beaten for the bronze medal in the Senior Women’s race. Making a woman’s record 16th appearance at these championships, the Wicklow woman was denied third spot by the fast finishing Swede Samrawit Mengsteab by a miserable two seconds.
Another stay at home advocate Ciara Mageean, in 20th, had a cracking run on a tough and hilly course to cement a surprise silver team medal for the Irish colleens. The trio was completed by another leaver Aoibhe Richardson (17th), a Kilkenny woman studying in the US. All roads now lead to Dublin for the 2020 championships when the challenge will be to equal or better the Lisbon medal total. It will need all the arrivals, departed and remainers to do that.
JUNIOR MEN (6225m): 1 J Ingebrigtsen 18:20, 2 A Aslanhan TUR 18:58, 3 E Gidey IRL 19:01; Team: 1 GBR 25, 2 NOR 38, 3 IRL (3 Efrem Gidey, 12 Darragh McElhinney, 24 Thomas McStay) 39
JUNIOR WOMEN (4225m): N Bacolcatti ITA 13:58, 2 K Lukan 14:01, 3 M Machado POR 14:10; 1 ITA 29, 2 GBR 29, 3 FRA 38, 11 IRL (46 Jodie McCann, 62 A O’Cuill, 77 Sarah Kelly) 185
U23 MEN (8225m): J Gressier FRA 24:17, 2 E Bibic 24:25, 3 A Oukhelfen ESP 24:34; Team: 1 FRA 17, 2 ITA 29, 3 GER 45, 7 IRL (22 Brian Fay, 25 Jack O’Leary, 26 Peter Lynch) 73
U23 WOMEN (6225m): A E Moller DEN 20:30, 2 J Lau NED 21:09, 3 Stephanie Cotter IRL 21:15; Team: 1 NED 17, 2 IRL (3 Cotter, 9 Eilish Flanagan, 17 Roisin Flanagan) 29, 3 GBR 47.
MIXED RELAY: 1 GBR 17:55, 2 BELARUS 18;01, 3 FRA 18:05, 7 IRL 18:40
SENIOR MEN (10,225m): 1. R Fsiha SWE 29:59, 2 A Kaya TUR 30:10, 3 Y Crippa ITA 30:21; Team: 1 GBR 36, 2 BEL 38, 3 ESP 45, 13 IRL (18 Sean Tobin, 52 32:28, 61 Eoin Everard) 131
SENIOR WOMEN (8225m): 1 Y Can TUR 26:52, 2 K B Grovdal NOR 27:07, 3 S Mengsteab SWE 27:43; Teams: 1 GBR 26, 2 IRL (4 Fionnuala McCormack, 17 Aoibhe Richardson, 20 Ciara Mageean) 41, 3 POR 43