World Athletics Championships: Consistent Chris O’Donnell confident of Ireland team’s berth for 4x400m final

After making two successive global finals, the mixed relay quartet are out to repeat the trick this Saturday

Once upon a time in Ireland, the prospect of a relay quartet making a third successive global championship final would have been either sniffed or laughed at. Truth is, if they don’t make this final, it will feel like a letdown.

It will all unfold on Saturday’s opening sessions of the world championships in Budapest, the mixed 4x400m relay one of three of the 49 medal events up for immediate grabs. Heats in the morning, final in the evening, and the rest is history.

Chris O’Donnell was ever-present as the Irish quartet made that final at the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021, then at last summer’s world championships in Oregon, the Sligo athlete admitting that’s the least of their ambitions this time around.

“We’re not afraid to say that, if we’re not in a final, we’ll be disappointed,” he says. “When we first got together as a mixed relay, it was kind of a miracle job making finals. Now we’re going in absolutely expecting to make finals.


“And if we do make a final, there won’t be any mad celebrations. It will just be, get our warm down in, and very much focus on the next round (final), because we’ve been there before, and this is what we’re expecting. I think in Tokyo, maybe we were guilty of, ‘oh we got to the final, this is amazing’ and you forget you’ve actually got a final to run.”

Budapest has already been a happy hunting ground for Irish relay quartets in the past: remember the bronze medals won at the World Indoors here back in 2004?

However, in getting to the final in Oregon, the Irish mixed 4x400m had Rhasidat Adeleke to call on. Adeleke didn’t run the final, as she also had the individual 400m to focus on (missing that final by one spot). With Adeleke’s individual 400m heats on Sunday evening, she won’t be available at all, only for the women’s 4x400m at the closing sessions.

There’s still plenty of relay experience in Budapest with Sharlene Mawdsley, Sophie Becker and Jack Raftery also part of the Oregon squad, joined this time around by Callum Baird and Roisin Harrison.

Given its still relative novelty — first added to the World Championship programme in Doha in 2019 — it’s difficult to predict exact outcomes: the Irish quartet go in ranked 13th of the 17 teams and may need to improve on the national record of 3:12:88, set in Tokyo, to progress.

O’Donnell is certainly running into form, the 25-year-old winning his fifth national title in six years last month, the 45.95 his fastest winning time to boot, and will also contest the individual 400m, those heats set for Sunday morning, his eyes there on running inside her personal best of 45.26, run last year.

“Yeah, I like to think I’m coming into form at the right time. It’s pretty easy to tell looking at my times as the year progressed, it’s very much an upward curve. So I’m going into the world championships in a better place than I was last year, even though I haven’t hit my personal best yet. Last year, I ran my PB [personal best] early and then didn’t manage to replicate it later in the year. I’m more than happy with the way it’s going this time around. But never once during that time did I doubt that I’d be here when it mattered. I always told myself that during the summer, I’d be here. Even though I was missing a week here and there, I was always aiming towards the summer. And if you’re going in with a relay, there is actually more pressure because you want to do well for your teammates, you don’t want to mess it up for them.”

Like the rest of the 24-strong Irish team, O’Donnell counted down the days at the training base in Samorin, in west Slovakia, before making the two-hour drive southeast to the Hungarian capital. Although finished his post-grad studies at Loughborough University that remains his training base over the winter.

“To be honest, not a whole pile has changed since I left university. I feel like I’ve been full-time for quite a while. And I’m [in] an excellent training group, there are three of us at the world championships. Two of the guys are on the GB team, Alex Haydock [Wilson] who was third in the 400 of the Europeans last year and we’ve Charlie Dobson who was fourth in the 200 Europeans last year … so you can’t ask for more training partner wise, we’re pushing each other.”

It’s already been a successful sporting month for his home village of Grange, after Mona McSharry won three medals at the European Under-23 Swimming Championships in Dublin last weekend, and McDonnell is told they’ll be strong home support in Budapest too.

“I went home the other week and the amount of people coming up just saying, ‘see you Budapest’… It’s absolutely brilliant, it’s fantastic, the village wouldn’t be diehard athletics fans, but they’ve bought into it.”

Ideally to see McDonnell and the rest of that quartet contest another final too.

  • Virgin Media has confirmed it will broadcast live all the daily sessions throughout the nine days of the World Athletics Championships, returning the event to Irish terrestrial television for the first time since the Paris world championships in 2003. The daily coverage will be on Virgin Media Two, starting on Saturday (7.40am to 1:50pm, then 5:50pm to 9.0pm), with Virgin Media Sport reporter Will Dalton also broadcasting live on the ground.
Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics