Sean McAnuff and Liam O’Brien took Irish short track speed skating to new heights at this weekend’s European Championships in Gdansk, Poland.
Racing at the Hala Olivia arena began on Friday with the qualification rounds. O’Brien lined up in Heat 3 of the 1500 metres quarterfinals in which he finished fourth in a time of 2:26.961. McAnuff appeared in Heat 7 and placed sixth with a time of 2:27.128. Both would have a second shot in the repechage the following day.
McAnuff took to the ice next in Heat 1 of the 500 metres heats. He fought hard in what was a tough race originally crossing the line in third. However, an athlete ahead of him was disqualified and McAnuff’s result was revised giving him second place and an automatic berth in Saturday afternoon’s quarterfinals. This was a first for an Irish skater at a European Championships. In Heat 9 O’Brien finished third in a time of 43.457 which put him in the repechage the following morning.
The first day of racing concluded for Team Ireland with the 1000 metres heats. McAnuff started in Heat 4 and ended in fourth place with a time of 1:33.028 giving him another opportunity in the repechage on Sunday. Unfortunately for O’Brien, he was penalised in Heat 8 and would take no further part in the distance.
The second day of competition commenced with the 1500 metres repechage quarterfinals. O’Brien comfortably won Heat 2 in a time of 2:24.948 to advance to the next round. McAnuff went in Heat 4 and just missed out on joining O’Brien as he came fourth in a time 2:36.623.
O’Brien came back for the 1500 metres repechage semifinals knowing he needed a win and nothing less to secure a spot in the afternoon’s 1500 metres semifinals. In a nail biting finish, he crossed the line in 2:31.135 a mere 0.014 seconds ahead of the second place athlete. Ireland would have not one, but two athletes in an afternoon session of a European Championships for the very first time.
It was a busy morning for O’Brien as he was back for the 500 metres repechage quarterfinals hoping to do the same as he did in the 1500 metres. However, he false started in Heat 5 and was disqualified.
O’Brien was drawn in Heat 2 of the 1500 metres semifinals. It proved to be a somewhat messy race and O’Brien was penalised bringing his racing at the championships to a slightly disappointing end. He came 22nd in the distance classification with McAnuff 32nd.
McAnuff was up in Heat 3 of the 500 metres quarterfinals and it was a swift race. He finished fifth in the heat with a time of 43.272. This put him in 19th in the distance classification which is the first time an Irish athlete has finished inside the Top 20 at a European Short Track Speed Skating Championships. O’Brien was 42nd overall.
There was just the 1000 metres repechage quarterfinals left for McAnuff on the final day of the championships. He raced in Heat 5 where he wound up third in a time of 1:42.339 and just missed out on advancing any further. His distance classification was 31st with O’Brien’s 43rd.
“This year’s European Championships were so much fun,” McAnuff said. “I got to engage with and enjoy the company of so many athletes. There was a great atmosphere of supporting one another and encouragement between smaller countries.
“I felt I came back after last season refreshed and with a whole new enjoyment of the sport. I was very pleased with my outcome finishing with the best results of my career, in the 500 metres. I have been training hard off the ice for the last eight months and my coaches and I saw a huge improvement from focusing on these aspects of training. I’m looking forward to future competitions and pushing beyond my limits.”
“The competition definitely had its highs and lows,” O’Brien said. “Qualification didn’t go as planned, but I was happy to bounce back in the repechage on Saturday and make it through to the semifinals in the 1500 metres. In the semi, I thought I was a bit unfortunate to get penalised, but that’s racing. Overall, there was a lot to come out of the competition and take into future races.”
“Sean has delivered his best performance to date at a European Championships,” team leader Karen O’Sullivan said. “His 19th place finish in the 500 metres has to be satisfying for him and the training he has committed to over the season. It will spur him on to improving on this result at his next competition. World Cup 5 in Dresden, Germany in a couple of weeks. After his race this morning he expressed the target of a 16th place in Dresden in the 500 metres.
“The results were not what Liam was hoping for at this championships,” O’Sullivan said. “However, he goes back to his training centre with renewed motivation. This has been a learning championships for Liam and he has shown great mental strength throughout the weekend. His races on Saturday showed us what he is capable of into the future.
“Overall, both competitors did well and have exceeded previous results of Irish athletes at these championships in the past.”