A key test, passed with flying colours. For a golden generation of young athletes, Saturday’s National Junior and U-23 Championships proved a low-key but high-intensity examination of their fitness as they prepare to take their talents to a bigger stage.
This week’s European U-23 Championships in Gavle, Sweden will see many Irish athletes populate various finals, but it’s next week’s European U-20 Championships in Boras, Sweden where Ireland has a rake of potential medallists.
Many of them were in action in Tullamore, with Blackrock’s Sarah Healy, the reigning European U-18 champion at 1500m and 3000m, sharpening her speed in over 800m.
After a pedestrian first lap, she kicked for home with 300m to run but was headed in the home straight by Jo Keane of Ennis, only for Healy to find an extra gear to take gold in 2:11.40.
“I don’t have many races like that so it was good preparation,” said Healy, who is targeting the 1500m at the European U-20 Championships.
The 18-year-old will be back in action at the Istvan Gyulai Memorial meeting in Budapest tomorrow, where she will compete in a 2000m race featuring 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba.
Bantry’s Darragh McElhinney was another to drop down in distance, finishing third in a thrilling U-20 800m. Louis O’Loughlin edged victory in 1:54.00 from Mark Milner and McElhinney.
McElhinney is the fastest European U-20 over 3000m and 5,000m this year, and the Bantry AC athlete will target the longer distance in Boras.
I was completely out of my comfort zone in the 800 but I put it up to the two boys,” said McElhinney. “It shows that if we do crawl for the first 4K [in the European U-20 5000m final] I can close fast.
Multi-event star Kate O’Connor bagged two gold medals on Saturday, winning the U-20 javelin with a record of 48.98m and the long jump with 5.98m.
She also clocked a swift 24.88 in the 200m heats, showing form that should see the Dundalk athlete contend for a heptathlon medal next week.
Davicia Patterson, the second fastest European U-20 over 400m this year, dropped down to the 200m and blitzed her opponents, winning gold in 24.82.
European U-18 200m champion Rhasidat Adeleke was a clear winner in the U-20 women’s 100m, the Tallaght sprinter claiming gold in 11.80. Adeleke will bypass the European U-20 Championships in favour of the European Youth Olympic Festival in Baku, Azerbaijan later this month.
In the U-23 category, Michaela Walsh of Swinford was again dominant, taking quadruple gold in the hammer, javelin, shot put and weight for distance.
Ellen McCartney added a centimetre to her Irish U-23 record in the pole vault, the City of Lisburn athlete clearing 4.01m to take gold.
Sharlene Mawdsley of Newport was highly impressive in the U-23 women’s 200m, winning gold in 23.74 from Sophie Becker.
Carlow’s Molly Scott took gold in a high-quality 100m hurdles race in 13.71, and finished runner-up in the 100m to Ciara Neville – the Emerald AC athlete winning in 11.69 to Scott’s 11.74.
Elsewhere Fionnuala McCormack was in action at the European 10,000m Cup in Highgate, London, the 34-year-old finishing fifth in 32:05.27.
Ryan Forsyth was the leading Irish finisher in the men’s event, coming home eighth in the B race in 29:01.27.