For Cillin Greene, Phil Healy, Sophie Becker, and Chris O’Donnell, the achievement was in being here: the first-ever Irish relay team to reach an Olympic final. Not that they were resting on their laurels as they walked out at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo for the mixed 4x400m on Saturday night.
The four gave a decent account of themselves again against the world’s best, if not quite able to reproduce the blazing brilliance they displayed on Friday. They came home eighth in 3:15.04, with Poland taking victory in 3:09.87 ahead of Dominican Republic and USA.
“To come eighth in an Olympic final is unbelievable,” said Healy. “We wanted to come out here, do the best we could, 3:14 was our target coming here and we shattered that and did 3:12 (in the semi-final). Every member of the team stood up and that was 1.5 seconds inside our old record (in the final). We gave it everything.”
In the heats on Friday, the same quartet carved four seconds off the national record to finish fourth in 3:12.88, initially upgraded to second after disqualifications to USA and Dominican Republic, who were reinstated on appeal.
Healy believes the experience will stand to the team as they look towards next year’s World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, and onwards to the 2024 Games in Paris.
“This gives great opportunities for countries that don’t have four strong members to get to an Olympic final in an all-girls or all-men 4x4 so to come out here and perform in a mixed team is unbelievable. It shows the depth we have, everybody stepped up their game throughout the season.”
Becker said the experience was “just surreal” of walking out for the final, with a smattering of Irish teammates cheering in the stands.
“You’re walking out with people who this is their second or third Olympics even and to be sharing a track with them is just brilliant. We gave it our all, we knew it was going to be tough, and we saw there was going to be nine teams instead of eight and it was going to be carnage and sure enough it was when Phil was passing the baton to me. But we all held our own and fought until the very last bit. We’re all very happy with that.”
O’Donnell, who anchored the team, paid tribute to his teammates’ performance.
“At the start of the year, no one gave us a chance at the World Relays. We proved them wrong there, we came seventh and qualified for the Olympics,” he said. “When we got here no one gave us a chance either and we proved them wrong and qualified for an Olympic final. If Ireland were regulars in the quarter-finals of the World Cup we’d be over the moon. We’re just behind a sprinting powerhouse there in Jamaica. I couldn’t be prouder of the platform we’ve built this year for years to come. Ireland is really on the map now for relays.”
Greene also reflected with pride on the team’s showing, and indeed his own given the injury issues he has overcome in recent years to be part of the quartet. He ran another storming leg from lane one in the final, having clocked the fastest split of any runner in the heats.
“I’ve had a lot of setbacks the last number of years, I’m a late developer, and things are only starting to click the last number of months,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than an Olympic final, it’s an incredible experience to be out here.
“No one gave us a shot at making a final, so to step up in the biggest stage is an astronomical experience for us all. Everyone ran their heart out. To come away with a national record I don’t think we could have done any better.”
O’Donnell paid thanks to all those who had offered their support in recent days as the team stepped up to a new level.
“There might be no one in the stands but we know there’s a full stadium at home watching us and they’ve been absolutely amazing,” he said.