Tuesday 21 August 2018

Healy shows her class as Foster vents fury

Phil Healy in action during the women’s 400m heats at the Birmingham Arena yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Phil Healy in action during the women’s 400m heats at the Birmingham Arena yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy in Birmingham

Perhaps it says a lot about how outclassed Irish athletes have been at recent World Indoor Championships that the last time one of them escaped the opening round was 2010, but that troubling trend was broken yesterday after a courageous, classy performance from Phil Healy.

The 23-year-old Bandon sprinter lined up in lane six of her 400m heat at Arena Birmingham, with two athletes of international renown drawn alongside in Jamaica's Stephenie Ann McPherson and Britain's Eilidh Doyle, but if Healy felt the fear of their presence she did it anyway, scorching through the opening lap in 24.03.

That was a half a second faster than Healy had ever run the first half of a 400m, but she was aware that to win big, she had to gamble. "I knew I had the speed to get to the bell first and that's what I did, I had to do it," she said. "I knew it was going to be one of the tougher heats because they ran great times already this year."

Healy, of course, had also clocked a time to warrant much respect from her rivals - running 52.08 in Vienna back in January - and she knew that being in their company at her first major global championships could inspire a big performance.

Standard

"The standard is so high," she said. "It has its pros and cons and the pro is that it pulls you through. Being in with these girls helps me to step up."

All the same, she faced the consequences of her fast start in the final 100m as McPherson and Doyle came charging past. "The second quickest I've ever gone through is 24.5, so it does bite that little bit more," she said.

With only two automatic spots on offer for last night's semi-final, Healy had to fight overwhelming fatigue all the way to the line, which she crossed in 52.75, enough to take one of the six non-automatic spots.

No such joy, however, for Amy Foster, whose exit in the heats of the women's 60m in 7.35 was not bad in any way, but nor was it particularly good, at least when you've rocked an Irish record of 7.27 in recent weeks.

But what stung most was not that she was unable to advance here in Birmingham, but the bitter taste that still lingers, with good justification, over being snubbed for selection for the upcoming Commonwealth Games by Northern Ireland selectors.

Foster ran the qualifying standard on three occasions last year, but was left off the team in favour of athletes ranked higher in their respective events.

"I'm devastated," she said. "The Commonwealths in Gold Coast was something I thought about from the day it was announced in 2011. I wanted to be there and that's a massive thing for me. To get the qualifying time three times, once in Australia, once in Ireland, what more could I have done? This was the one I really wanted."

Selectors may well have been left red-faced after Foster's recent run of form, and yesterday the 29-year-old admitted that she had been running with extra motivation since.

"I feel like I've proven a point and made some people uncomfortable," she said. "I've had a lot of support and that's been amazing, but whatever happens I can never get it back. The hardest thing for me is I did everything I could. I should be on that plane in three weeks' time, going there, but I'm not."

In yesterday's heat, Foster blasted from the blocks in impressive style, and through the opening 20 metres she led double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson alongside her, but she was soon swallowed up by the pack, coming home fifth in 7.35 in a race won by Marie-Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast in 7.17.

Fastest

"I got out okay, but I just didn't get the 20 to 40 right which I have been doing this year," she said. "It's not a bad run, just not what I was looking for. I've had really good races this year but that was probably one of my worst."

Still lots to look forward to, however, for the fastest Irishwoman of all time, with Foster now looking towards August's European Championships in Berlin: "I want to be competitive there and finish up towards the top end. I'm running with a bit more fire in my belly and fight, and the season will be good."

Ciara Neville finished seventh in the first heat of the women's 60m, and though the Limerick sprinter was clearly disappointed with her time of 7.47, she was adamant that much would be taken from what will be the first of many senior global championships for the 18-year-old.

"This will set me up for better things," she said. "Mentally, I'll be stronger next time."

Ben Reynolds will take to the track this evening as the last Irish competitor, the 27-year-old going in heat two of the men's 60m hurdles at 6:37pm. Given he qualified via the IAAF invitation system, it's unlikely he will advance to the semi-final.

Internationally, all eyes will be trained on Christian Coleman tonight as the American seeks his first global title in the men's 60m final shortly after 9pm. The 21-year-old smashed the world record at the US Championships two weeks ago, clocking 6.34.

  • World Indoor Championships, Live, BBC 2 9:45am/5:30pm; ESPN Facebook

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