They stayed in their lanes, didn’t get disqualified, and at an event that threatened to descend into farce at one point, there’s something to be said for that.
Still, no-one watching the World Indoor Championships through a green-tinted lens could have considered it a success for the Irish.
Never before had a championship encountered such draconian officiating, or maybe it’s fairer to call it stringent, but, whatever the case, officials had obviously been studying the rulebook with Olympic levels of dedication.
The Irish, thankfully, avoided the fate of the fallen, but with the notable exception of Phil Healy, few will walk away feeling they gave their best. The Bandon sprinter became the first Irish athlete since 2010 to escape the qualifying round at world indoors, but it wasn’t so much what she did as how she did it that left a lasting impression. She stamped her authority on the race from the moment the gun fired in her 400m heat last Friday.
Lining up against a world finalist in Eilidh Doyle and an Olympic medallist in Stephenie-Ann McPherson, she powered to the front and showed them the kind of contempt that only those with a genuine belief in their ability can harbour.
Of course, both athletes came charging past her on the second lap, Healy not having the strength to go with them — at least not yet — but her mentality exemplified an athlete who believes she now belongs at this level.
In the 60m, Amy Foster ran with the rage of an athlete who controversially was omitted from the Northern Ireland team at next month’s Commonwealth Games, though the 29-year-old was down on her best of 7.27, eliminated after running 7.35 in her heat.
At 18 years of age, the main goal for Ciara Neville was always going to be about learning and, if the Limerick teenager absorbed everything around her — how the world’s best warm up, how they behave in the call room, how they cope with their nerves — then it’ll have been a trip well worth making. That learning came despite her underperformance in the women’s 60m, her 7.47 well off her best of 7.30.
Ben Reynolds was the only Irish involvement at the weekend, having been granted a place under the IAAF invitation system. His race was run after the first hurdle, which he clipped en route to a 7.89 clocking, again well off his best, and no-one was more disappointed than him.
Perhaps the most dispiriting performance from an Irish perspective was from Ciara Mageean in the women’s 1,500m, a reflection of the esteem in which the 25-year-old is held. This time she was far, far from her best, the Portaferry native trailing home seventh in her heat in 4:11.84.
She admitted afterwards that this was never a huge priority, her eyes trained on next month’s Commonwealth Games, but, either way, warning signs may well be signalled with her coach Steve Vernon, who has been in charge since Mageean moved to a professional group in Manchester last November. It’s too early to say if that change has backfired, but Mageean will be hoping for a much better showing at the Games in Queensland, Australia, and the European Championships in Berlin in August. The positive sounds she’s been making about her new training setup are a sign she can turn things around by the summer.
Meanwhile, officials at the Birmingham championships continued their war against athletes who make an infraction, disqualifying a number of them across a range of events, mostly for lane infringements. Complaints rained in hard and fast from athletes about the steepness of the curve in Birmingham, which caused many to stumble on the bends, and it’s likely the IAAF will be taking a fresh look at the rule book in the months ahead. After a quiet first day or two, the arena was packed on the final two days, a sign that for all its ills, the sport can still draw a crowd, and still has the capacity to thrill.
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