Tuesday 18 September 2018

Are we becoming a nation of sprinters? Phil Healy and Marcus Lawler smash records

Sophie O’Sullivan celebrates after winning the junior women’s 1,500m at the Cork City Sports Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Sophie O’Sullivan celebrates after winning the junior women’s 1,500m at the Cork City Sports Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

First the drips, then the deluge - the good times are well and truly flowing for Irish athletics after last night's Cork City Sports, where Phil Healy and Marcus Lawler proved, if any doubt remained, that we have become a nation of sprinters.

Hot on the heels of a stunning fortnight from Ireland's underage athletes, Healy and Lawler produced two sprints of scintillating quality that demonstrated the rising tide also extends to the senior ranks.

"The last few weeks the girls are going from strength to strength, there's been PBs and everyone has stepped up," said Healy (p), who will next compete at the Morton Games in Dublin on Thursday evening before joining three of the medal-winning relay team from Tampere at the London Diamond League this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Healy became the first Irishwoman to break 23 seconds for 200m, blitzing a personal best of 22.99 with barely a breath of wind (+0.3) to not only hammer her personal best of 23.17, but also surpass Sarah Reilly's Irish record of 23.02, which had stood for 17 years.

With an explosion from the blocks, a swift pick-up around the bend and a long, powerful drive down the home straight, she etched her name into Irish athletics history by finishing a close third behind Canadian Crystal Emmanuel (22.75) and Joanna Atkins (22.90).

"Its absolutely amazing," said Healy. "I'm so thrilled to finally get that. To do it here in Cork, on home turf, is absolutely brilliant."

Earlier in the night, the 23-year-old Bandon athlete finished a close second to Emmanuel in the 100m in 11.30, just shy of the national record of 11.28 she set last month.

Impressive

Making this run of form all the more impressive, of course, is the fact that Healy specialises in the 400m, but in preparing for a tilt at that at next month's European Championships, she has become the fastest Irishwoman of all time.

For that, huge credit should go to her coach Shane McCormack, one of just a handful of minds in Irish athletics with the expertise to consistently turn OK athletes into good ones, and good athletes into greats.

"I moved to Waterford this year to be around my coach and have training partners and the whole group of us together brings us all on leaps and bounds," said Healy.

Following the pair of silver medals won by the Irish at the World U-20 Championships, Healy's breakthrough is the latest to lift the spirits of a sport that, as recently as last year's World Championships in London, was struggling to identify many world-class performers of the future.

"The last few weeks the girls are going from strength to strength, there's been PBs and everyone has stepped up," said Healy, who will next compete at the Morton Games in Dublin on Thursday evening before joining three of the medal-winning relay team from Tampere at the London Diamond League this weekend.

Of course, there was one curious thing linking the starring roles played by Irish athletes in recent weeks, which is that they were all women, but in Cork last night Lawler provided a much-needed dose of inspiration for the men.

The 23-year-old Carlow sprinter obliterated his PB to finish second in the men's 200m in 20.40 (+0.9), which moved him to second on the Irish all-time list behind Paul Hession. The race was won by Zambia's Sydney Siame in 20.18.

"It's a long time coming," said Lawler, whose previous wind-legal best was 20.71. "I've been knocking on the door of 20.4, 20.5 for so long and now I've finally got a 20.4."

Lawler endured a rough 2017, tearing his hamstring at the European Team Championships in Finland last June, which scuppered his medal chance at the following month's European U-23 Championships.

"I was trying to win the thing last year, then seeing that 20.7 won a medal, it could easily have been me," he said.

Under the guidance of his coach and mother Patricia, with some help from Terrie Cahill, the coach of Derval O'Rourke, he emerged a stronger athlete this year, and his time now ranks him 12th in Europe.

Promising news, too, for Thomas Barr, who dropped down to 200m last night to test his speed against Lawler and the true experts of the craft. The 400m hurdles specialist smashed his lifetime best of 21.58, clocking 21.16 to finish sixth. With less than three weeks remaining until the Europeans in Berlin, it signals Barr is rounding into shape at just the right time.

Elsewhere, Sophie O'Sullivan continued her outstanding run of form with victory in the junior women's 1,500m in 4:22.22, the European U-18 800m silver medallist utilising her speed to great effect to edge Stephanie Cotter in a tit-for-tat duel to the line.

Irish Independent

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