Medals may be elusive as Irish take on world

There won’t be any medals, that’s for sure, and we’re unlikely to see any Irish athlete make a final, but that’s not to say we should stick a skewer in the IAAF World Indoor Championships before they’ve even begun.

Medals may be elusive as Irish take on world

World Indoor Championships

Because at this level, in an event gathering 632 athletes from 144 countries, there’s success to be found in defeat, if you look hard enough. The four-day championship gets out of the blocks tonight at Arena Birmingham, where the high jump finals take place against a backdrop of a cracking women’s 3000m final.

It’s been 15 years since Birmingham hosted this event, when Paul McKee bagged a bronze medal for the Irish over 400m, and if there’s to be anything to celebrate for those watching through a green-tinted lens then it’s again likely to occur in the two-lap event.

Phil Healy goes in as the highest-ranked of the five Irish athletes, the 23-year-old Bandon sprinter ranked eighth of 38 in the women’s 400m. Her season’s best of 52.08 was run in splendid isolation in Vienna back in January, and a repeat of that will undoubtedly see her through to Friday night’s semi-finals, but to advance further she will have to enter uncharted waters.

Amy Foster and Ciara Neville will fly the flag for the Irish in the women’s 60m, and while there’s more than a decade between them in age — Foster is 29, Neville 18 — there’s rarely more than a step between them over this distance. Both are unlikely to advance from the heats tomorrow morning, but if they can approach the 7.30 standard they ran to get here, they’ll leave with their heads held high.

Ciara Mageean will take to the track in the women’s 1500m heats on Friday evening, and the 25-year-old will be keen for a good showing after rough experiences at last year’s European Indoors in Belgrade and World Championships in London.

Mageean is ranked 18th of 30 competitors on her season’s best, and as such only an optimist would wager she secures a place in Saturday’s final.

She’s an athlete replete with class, however, as shown in February when she finished an impressive third in the Wanamaker mile at the Millrose Games in New York in 4:30.99. But Mageean was well beaten into eighth a week later in Boston, where she qualified for Birmingham with a time of 4:09.47. She bypassed the National Indoor Championships to concentrate on her final block of training in recent weeks, which she’ll be hoping will have added the extra gear she has sometimes lacked in recent times.

If Mageean and Healy are unable to reach a final, then the sole Irish interest over the weekend will be Ben Reynolds in the men’s 60m hurdles on Saturday.

Having earned his place via the IAAF invitation system, the 27-year-old will almost certainly bow out in the heats, though if he can run in the region of 7.80, he’ll do so feeling he has done himself and the Irish vest proud.

There will be little expected from the Irish quintet, though to cling to a strand of hope for a moment, that’s often the kind of setting which can spawn a breakthrough performance.

In contrast, the British crowd should be at their most expectant and electric for tonight’s 3000m final, hoping Laura Muir can win a global medal for the first time in her career. The 24-year-old Scot has often been superlative on the circuit in recent years only to be found wanting in championships, and in tonight’s final she faces a trio of athletes in Sifan Hassan, Hellen Obiri and Genzebe Dibaba who will expose any frailties. At her best, Dibaba is unstoppable, though the 1500m world record holder has been nowhere near that ever since her coach, Jama Aden, was arrested as part of a doping raid in Spain in 2016.

Dibaba will face questions about that this weekend, and while the Ethiopian always seems to have trouble finding the right words to respond with, even with the help of an interpreter, on the track she’s proved much better at producing the goods. Don’t expect that to change tonight.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up