IT’S EASY to understand why Darragh McElhinney is feeling deflated this week after an off-track decision cost him the chance to contest for a medal in the men’s 5000m at the recent European U23 Championships.
The Glengarriff athlete (20) was one of Ireland’s main medal hopes at these championships and he told the Star last week how this was his biggest race in two years and everything was planned with this event in mind.
His hopes of a podium finish were dashed when organisers decided to split the men’s 5000m into an A and B race, graded on times this season. But McElhinney hadn’t run a 5000m this year. Instead he had focussed on 1500m and 3000m to improve his speed, as all his preparations were targeted towards peaking for last Saturday night. His 5000m PB (13:54.10) was set two years ago.
With no 5000m time this season, he was placed in the slower B race and this made a medal tilt almost impossible because the faster runners were all in the A race.
In an Instagram post this week, McElhinney branded the decision as ‘farcical’.
‘Any hopes I had of winning a medal were essentially decimated when European Athletics decided to split the European Championships into an A and B seeded race for the first time ever due to numbers,’ he explained.
‘Despite running the fastest 3000m by a European U23 in 2021, I was deemed not good enough for the A race and had to run in the B. They also decided to ignore the fact that I am a European U20 medallist in the 5000m from two years ago. Instead, they literally decided to seed me last in the competition.’
McElhinney had to watch on as his main competitors fought it out in the A race, then he went out in the B race and tried to chase down times that he knew could win a medal. But, despite being on pace after 3000m, it proved a step too far.
‘It was virtually impossible in many ways,’ McElhinney told The Southern Star.
‘Even though it was the day before the race it was confirmed, it has been dragging on since the Monday. Emotionally, I was drained. I wasn’t in the mind-frame I should have been in for a European final.
‘After watching the A race, I thought it was possible. The guy who came third ran 13.35 and that’s not miles away from what I could run.
‘But when you put it all together, it was 32-degree heat, I was completely on my own, coming off the back of a hard 24 hours, it was too much in the end. I was running against the clock and I had no competitors to push me because I was out of my own.
‘With four laps to go I knew what I needed to do, but I had fallen back off the pace, 65-second laps, that I needed.’
In the end, McElhinney slipped back to ninth in the B final, his time of 14:25.38 well outside his personal best that he had felt primed to better.