On a history-making morning at the Olympic Stadium, one that produced what was undoubtedly the best athletics race of all time, a quartet of Irish athletes also had reason to walk away with their heads held high.
There’s no point pretending anyone will talk of much else today besides the astonishing, mind-bending, and utterly magnificent men’s 400m hurdles final, which saw Norway’s Karsten Warholm obliterate the world record with his winning time of 45.94.
Everything else that happened today was a mere sideshow, but for Andrew Coscoran, Leon Reid, Marcus Lawler, and Phil Healy there was nonetheless major reason to smile.
Coscoran got the Irish crew off to a strong start, committing to the strong pace in his 1500m heat and while he got shuffled to the rear midway through the final lap, he found his typical turn of pace with 100m to go to climb to eighth at the finish, his 3:37.11 seeing him through to the semi-final.
“I think it was one of the best races I’ve ever had,” said Coscoran. “I probably wasn’t supposed to make the semis, I was the second-slowest guy, so we’ll have to re-evaluate now and go again. I was latching on to guys the whole way and it worked out.”
Coscoran said the experience had so far been “great craic” at what is his first Olympics: “Meeting all new people, with superstars walking around – you get shell-shocked at the start.”
Phil Healy was next into the stadium and Ireland’s fastest woman again gave a great account of herself, a flying finish helping her to fourth in the 400m heats in 51.98, a season’s best and just 0.07 away from a time qualifier spot.
“That was unbelievable to come out and go sub-52,” she said. “I was surprised how strong I finished. I was disappointed to miss out. It was the impact the 4x4 took that I did have that fatigue factor but I’m walking off the track happy, knowing I have myself a bit of redemption there today.”
Marcus Lawler clocked a season’s best of 20.73 to finish fifth in his 200m heat but it wasn’t enough to advance.
“It’s better than what I’ve been doing all year and to run a season’s best here is obviously good but I’d really love to be contending for a semi and I knew that would have required a 20-mid, I’m capable of that,” he said. “I am really proud but from a performance point of view, I want to be better.”
Leon Reid achieved just that, unleashing a big season’s best in his 200m heat to finish fifth in 20.53, edging into this evening’s semi-finals by two thousandths of a second.
“It wasn’t the best run, it was a gritty run,” he said. “Coming off the bend I could have kicked a bit harder but it’s hard when everyone’s around you.”
Reid said he had not been distracted from his task by recent events off the track.
“This has always been the goal for the past 11 years so it doesn’t matter if I get hit by a car or whatever, that’s at the back of my mind now,” he said. “I’m here to focus on the running and I’ll sort that when I get back.”
He expects to go even quicker in tonight’s semi-final. “I’ll give it a good lash,” he said. “If I don’t get through I don’t get through, but I’ll give it every chance I’ve got.”
The morning session was rounded off by the much-anticipated men’s 400m hurdles final, which saw Warholm take on USA’s Rai Benjamin in what looked to many to be the race of the Games. Fast times were anticipated, but no one, absolutely no one, figured we would witness the first sub-46-second clocking.
Warholm rocketed from the blocks and forced Benjamin to chase hard down the back straight, and while the American drew close to his shoulder over the final two barriers, the world champion fought back and edged clear again to smash his own world record by a mind-blowing 0.76, the equivalent of about seven metres of track faster than anyone in history.
What on earth have we just witnessed 🤯 🤯 I am absolutely shook, is this even real life. Absolute hero. I think I could cry pic.twitter.com/AnilbPsdJl— Thomas Barr (@TomBarr247) August 3, 2021
Benjamin was just behind in 46.17, also way below the world record, with bronze medallist Alison dos Santos of Brazil taking bronze in 46.72, which was inside the world record by Kevin Young that had stood for 29 years until Warholm broke it in Oslo this summer.
“I can’t believe the time,” said Warholm. “It hasn’t sunk in yet but at the same time I feel ecstatic. I can’t describe how important this is to me. This is my life, morning to nights. A lot of the time I have been asked about the perfect race and it didn’t exist. But this is the most crazy thing I have ever done.”