The success or failure of the Irish team at the World Indoor Championships was always going to be decided by one athlete, and given Phil Healy managed something no Irish athlete had done since 2010, it felt a lot like the former at the close of play in Birmingham last night.
The 23-year-old Bandon sprinter was the first to advance from an opening round at world indoors since David Gillick and Claire Brady eight years ago in Doha, and to do so she had to take on and tussle with two of the world’s best.
Drawn on the outside in her 400m heat, Healy took off like a scared rabbit to get to the lead at the end of the first lap, when runners break lanes and those out front have a decisive edge on the tight turns. It meant she passed the bell in 24.03 seconds, a half a second faster than ever before, but Healy was aware that to win big, she had to gamble.
“I knew I had the speed to get to the bell first and that’s what I did, I had to do it,” she said. “The standard is so high. It has its pros and cons and the pro is that it pulls you through. Being in with these girls helps me to step up.”
Healy may have won the battle for the lead, but in the end the two world-class performers behind won the war, Jamaica’s Stephenie Ann McPherson and Britain’s Eilidh Doyle charging past in the final 100m, leaving Healy fighting to clock a fast enough time to advance as a non-automatic qualifier.
That she did, her 52.75 enough to see her through to last night’s semi-final, allowing Healy to walk away from these championships with her head held high.
Amy Foster, however, wasn’t best pleased with her performance after bowing out in the women’s 60m heats in 7.35, but if anything was gnawing away at the 29-year-old it was her controversial omission from the upcoming Commonwealth Games team.
Foster ran the qualifying standard on three occasions last year, but was left off the Northern Ireland team in favour of athletes ranked higher in their respective events.
“I’m devastated,” she said yesterday. “The Commonwealths in Gold Coast was something I thought about from the day it was announced in 2011. I wanted to be there and that’s a massive thing for me. To get the qualifying time three times, once in Australia, once in Ireland, what more could I have done? This was the one I really wanted.”
Foster’s recent run of form, however, will have left selectors wishing they could roll back the clock, and she admitted yesterday that the snub had given her extra motivation.
“I feel like I’ve proven a point and made some people uncomfortable,” she said.
“I’ve had a lot of support and that’s been amazing, but whatever happens I can never get it back. The hardest thing for me is I did everything I could. I should be on that plane in three weeks’ time, going there, but I’m not.”
Foster made an impressive start in yesterday’s heat, leading Olympic champion Elaine Thompson through the opening 20 metres, but she was soon swallowed up by the pack, coming home fifth in 7.35.
“I got out okay, but I just didn’t get the 20 to 40 right which I have been doing this year,” she said. “It’s not a bad run, just not what I was looking for. I’ve had really good races this year but that was probably one of my worst.”
She now turns her attention to the European Championships in Berlin.
“I want to be competitive there and finish up towards the top end. I’m running with a bit more fire in my belly and fight.”
Ciara Neville finished seventh in the first heat of the women’s 60m, and though the Limerick sprinter was clearly disappointed with her time of 7.47 — she has run 7.34 already this year — she will take much from what will undoubtedly be the first of many senior global championships for the 18-year-old.
“This will set me up for better things,” said Neville. “Mentally, I’ll be stronger next time.”
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