Phil Healy hoping to seize the day and prove she belongs with the world's best
There comes a time in every athlete's life when they either have to step up or step aside and, for 23-year-old Phil Healy, today may be that day.
The Bandon sprinter faces the biggest test of her career at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, where she will take on a classy cadre of the world's best quarter-milers.
Shortly after midday, she will settle into her blocks in lane six, knowing an Olympic 400m hurdles finalist, Eilidh Doyle, will be one lane inside her, while back in lane four will be a world 400m bronze medallist, Stephenie Ann McPherson.
Only two will advance to this evening's semi-finals, and though most athletics nerds would wager on the two heavyweights alongside her, Healy is adamant that their superior personal bests will count for little when the gun fires.
"Rankings mean absolutely nothing when you go to a World Championships," she said. "It's about executing your race properly and it's about who turns up in their best shape on the day."
Healy will have been best known to the sporting public for her absurd comeback in the Irish Universities 4x400m relay in 2016, the video of which went viral around the world and garnered airtime on major US networks like NBC and ESPN.
But so far this year she has quietly paved her way towards world class, smashing her lifetime best by clocking 52.08 for 400m in Vienna, a time which ranks her eighth of the 38 athletes in the women's 400m.
Healy, of course, is only a recent convert to the 400m and given the importance of a fast start in the indoor 400m - where only the first 200m is run in lanes - she will hope to utilise her range of gears to good effect today.
"At the end of the day, speed wins, especially indoors," she said. "Anything can happen at the break, but it's about getting to the bell as comfortably as possible then just drive it home."
First into action for the Irish will be Ciara Neville and Amy Foster in the women's 60m heats, and Foster will be once again hoping to give Northern Ireland selectors cause for regret after they omitted the 29-year-old from the Commonwealth Games team.
She blitzed an Irish record of 7.27 to win the national title in recent weeks, and admits the selection snub has given her added incentive this weekend in Birmingham.
"There is a bit more fire in my belly," she said. "I know I should be going."
Foster is ranked 31st of 52 athletes in the event, so will need to approach her best, or perhaps exceed it, to advance from the heat. "I need to be running 7.30 to get to the semi-final," she said.
Neville, meanwhile, can take to the track knowing that no result will be considered a failure, given this will be the 18-year-old's debut at a senior global championship.
She secured qualification last year when she equalled the national record, clocking 7.30, though her best this year is 7.34, run to take the national junior title back in January.
Ciara Mageean, meanwhile, will be hoping a change of scenery has revitalised her career after the 25-year-old endured two torrid championship experiences in 2017.
She dropped out of the European Indoor 1500m final in Belgrade last March and then trailed home 13th in her heat at the World Championships in London, where she was at a loss to explain her performance.
She has since parted ways with coach Jerry Kiernan, who guided her to a European bronze medal in 2016, and come under the guidance of Steve Vernon, who oversees a professional group in Manchester.
"That's been fantastic for my mentality," said Mageean. "We're supporting each other every step of the way. It makes things a little easier.
"People thought I moved because I didn't have the support, but the backing I had was great. I had a fantastic coach in Jerry Kiernan but the move was to put me in a place where I could feel like a professional athlete and be able to take on the world."
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