Athletics: European Athletics Championships: O'Sullivan takes her final chance: Surge of power on the last lap shakes off Murray and brings Ireland their first gold medal

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SONIA O'SULLIVAN won Ireland's first gold medal in the 60-year history of these championships yesterday with a certainty that has characterised nearly everything she has done this season.

It was the Irish runner's last opportunity to win a major championship 3,000 metres - from next year the distance will be replaced in the programme by the 5,000m - and she seized it.

The frustration of last summer's World Championships, when she finished fourth behind three Chinese runners at this distance and second behind another at 1500m, was forgotten as she produced an unanswerable burst over the final 180 metres to come home in 8min 31.38sec. She finished more than four seconds clear of Britain's Yvonne Murray, who defended her title with the bravery she had shown in winning it four years ago.

Once these two had detached the rest of the field after 1500 metres, the result seemed inevitable. Murray, whose training has been aimed more towards the 10,000m, where her future lies, pressed on gamely with O'Sullivan at her back, and the knowledge that she had not beaten the Irish girl in the last in two seasons.

O'Sullivan, whose face was a permanent wide grin afterwards, appeared to be smiling well before the end, just as her compatriot, Eamonn Coghlan, had before the end of the World Championship 5,000m of 1983.

'With 600 metres to go I knew I was going to win, so I may have been smiling,' O'Sullivan said. 'I kept thinking she was going to give a last surge but it never came.'

Thus she had her title after the trials of last year. The promise of this season, with its 2,000m world record and 3,000m European record, had finally been turned to gold. The doubts about over-racing, brought about by her failures at the Goodwill Games and the Monte Carlo grand prix last month, were dispelled.

'This was the one I just had to win or I would never have been able to explain myself,' she said. 'I spent the whole day lying on my bed going through the race in my mind. I can hardly explain how I feel now I have won. It is just something you think about and dream about.'

As O'Sullivan trotted over towards the waving tricolours and an embrace by her father, John, a former goalkeeper for Cobh Ramblers, Roy Keane's first football club, it was not hard to work out how Murray was feeling. The pale figure was bent double.

'I knew if it came to a sprint, I was not going to win,' said Murray, who had taken up the lead from 600 metres after a slow first lap from Ireland's Anita Philpott. 'I have been gearing my training to running the 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games.'

The men's 400m hurdles final, won by Oleg Tverdokhleb of Ukraine in 48.06sec, produced no unexpected bonus for the two British representatives. Peter Crampton finished sixth in 49.45; Gary Cadogan last in 49.53.

Ann Griffiths, who only came through the first round of the 800m heats as a fastest loser, finished fifth in a final which saw Lyubov Gurina of Russia and Belarus's Natalya Dukhnova dip together over the line. Gurina got the verdict; both were timed at 1min 58.55sec. It was a brave and positive run from the Sale athlete, who missed the whole of last season through injury. She was always up with the leaders and went wide to challenge in the home straight but found the pace just too much. Her time of 1min 59.81sec was a personal best.

The withdrawal from the 200m of John Regis, because of injury, and Solomon Wariso, because of a positive drug test, left the remaining Briton, Philip Goedluck, with something of a heavy burden.

The 26-year-old carried it successfully through the first- round heat, where he ran 20.99 - close to his personal best of 20.90 - to take the fourth qualifying place. He was wearing a pair of shoes given to him by Regis.

'John is a long-time friend of mine,' said Goedluck, who works as a fireman in Battersea. 'He told me earlier this week that I should go out and try to relax. I want to represent Britain in the final to show that we are still, as everyone knows, a great force in sprinting.'

Katharine Merry, her potential still diminished by tendinitis in both knees, which has prevented her running competitively since finishing second in both sprints at the European Cup in June, nevertheless qualified for the 200m semi-finals in a time of 23.73sec. Late in the day, Sally Gunnell qualified with predictable ease for tomorrow's 400m hurdles final.

Jackson's record aim,

Results, page 39

(Photograph omitted)

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