Eilish Flanagan produced a huge lifetime best on her Olympic debut in Tokyo this morning, the 24-year-old clocking 9:34.86 to finish 12th in her steeplechase heat. In hot, humid conditions in the Olympic Stadium, her Irish teammate Michelle Finn finished ninth in an earlier heat, the two-time Olympian dissatisfied with her time of 9:36.26.
“It was hot, it was hard, it wasn’t what I wanted it to be but it was alright,” said Finn. “I found it hard to get going, I wanted to be off the front hanging on for dear life but I was in the outside lane, not where I wanted to be.”
Flanagan went into the race with a personal best of 9:40.68 and the Adams State student had only just qualified for the Games through her world ranking, but the Finn Valley athlete made a strong impact against world-class opposition.
“I knew I was capable of running a PB but it was tough with the heat,” she said. “I was trying to run my own race and not think of the names and their times. I stayed at the back and was aiming to work up a little more. It worked out.
“Given my last few races I was worried about my fitness and if I was a little burnt out with all the racing I had to do but to run a PB, I’m pretty stoked. It’s definitely still surreal, I can’t really comprehend I’m here and have competed at the Olympics. I’m already looking forward to the next.”
For Finn, this was her second appearance at the Games and the 31-year-old Leevale athlete clocked her fastest ever time at a championships, but it was well down on the 9:29.25 she ran back in June, which made her the second fastest Irishwoman of all time.
“I don’t feel that was a good time for me at all,” said Finn, who unleashed a powerful last lap to close the gap on those ahead. “I think I should have gone earlier. I didn’t go when I needed to go. I don’t know why I’m not sadder, I 100 per cent think I can run at least 10 seconds faster and I think I could do that tomorrow. There’s frustration, but I think I’m taking this one better than usual.”
Thomas Barr is the sole remaining Irish competitor at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday, the 28-year-old Waterford athlete going in the semi-final of the men’s 400m hurdles at 1:05pm Irish time, where he needs top-two finish to automatically advance or to be one of the two quickest overall time qualifiers outside that.
He faces a stiff assignment, drawn alongside world champion Karsten Warholm of Norway and Rai Benjamin of USA, the two big favourites for gold in the event.