The blood was still running down Luke’s McCann’s right leg, his skin soaked in sweat, as he tried to piece together what went wrong.
aking the European Indoor 1500m final left the 24-year-old Dubliner beaming with pride on Friday night in Istanbul, but a day can be a long time in athletics.
Now he straddled a line between confusion and disgust, the scar of this final probably lingering a lot longer than that open wound on his knee.
“There’s no real excuse for it,” he said, having trailed home 10th, his time a pedestrian, puzzling 3:44.55, 10 full seconds slower than he ran in Birmingham last weekend, and 10.5 seconds behind Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway, who powered to gold in a championship record of 3:33.95.
“I didn’t have an injury, I didn’t feel sick, I felt absolutely perfect,” said McCann. “I put myself in the position I wanted to be in and the group of five broke away, but with two laps to go lactic (acid) just started flooding.”
If anything, ambition proved his undoing, but as Con Houlihan used to say, he was making the right mistakes.
After a collision sent two athletes crashing to the track on the first lap, McCann did some fancy footwork to stay up, and then set about following the hot pace laid down by Ingebrigtsen, who was already churning 28-second laps.
“I was prepped for that,” he said, but perhaps not to do it two days in a row. “Maybe it’s the inexperience of dealing with heats and finals. It’s just a case of going back with my coach and seeing how I can be better in these situations.”
When the pain fades, though, McCann will see what he achieved in the past week marks a big step forward.
“I have to come away happy,” he said. “I had expectations for myself and that’s where I want to be, and hopefully I can be a bit better in the summer.”
For Kate O’Connor, her first senior championship in an Irish vest will be remembered as an okay one.
Not bad, not great, just okay. The Dundalk multi-eventer finished ninth in the pentathlon with 4353 points, in which Belgium’s Nafi Thiam broke the world indoor record with 5055 points.
Given the absence of O’Connor’s favoured javelin, it was always going to be hard to expect much more, but still, she was capable of it – her Irish record of 4396 points the least of her ambition.
She still had a shot heading into the 800m, having clocked 8.64 in the hurdles, cleared 1.77m in the high jump, thrown 14.37m in the shot put and managed 5.91m in the long jump.
She started well in the four-lap event but faded hard, her time of 2:20.08 more than eight seconds off her best.
“I’m disappointed, I went into that 800m with a plan and I should have fell across that line and I didn’t,” she said.
“I just need to go away and get my fitness up and hopefully the outdoors will be a bit more successful. I’ve got to come away proud of myself; I know I can do more but there’ll be more competitions.”
For Sharlene Mawdsley, it was hard not to feel one of the biggest chances of her career had slipped away.
In truth it was through no fault of her own, at least not in the 400m semi-final, though she will undoubtedly rue the tactical errors earlier in the day that led to her finishing second in her heat and securing a sub-optimal lane.
“My race plan just fell apart, if I’m being completely honest,” she said of her sixth place finish in 53.37.
“It’s my own fault, but hopefully I’ll learn from it. It’s just an underperformance. I expected more, I think everyone else expected more from me so I need to put in a bit of training, endurance, to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
At the halfway mark of the championships, there’s been little to celebrate from an Irish perspective, the breakthroughs that were so common at last year’s Europeans in Munich replaced, it seems, by a raft of under-performances.
Still much distance left to run, of course, their one consolation being that it can’t get much worse.
European Indoor Championships: Live, RTÉ 1, 3:30pm; BBC 2, 6am, 4.30pm; European Athletics Website, 6am, 3.35pm.
Irish in action, Saturday (all times Irish)
Israel Olatunde, men’s 60m heats, 6.27am; *men’s 60m semi-finals, 3.45pm; *men’s 60m final, 5.55pm
Darragh McElhinney, men’s 3000m heats, 7.13am
Sarah Lavin, women’s 60m hurdles heats, 7.59am