Phil Healy gets the nod as Rhasidat Adeleke showdown lives up to the hype

26-year-old just edges 18-year-old pretender to National Track and Field 200m crown

Like all classic sprint showdowns they chased for the line and time seemed to slow, even as it was racing away, before the suddenly dawning moment of separation between Phil Healy and Rhasidat Adeleke. Who won?

Rarely if ever in the 149 consecutive years of the National Track and Field Championships did a sprint head-to-head live up to such climactic billing, Healy – still Ireland's fastest woman over 100 metres - given the closest of verdicts ahead of her young pretender Adeleke, who last month had taken over Healy's national 200m record when running 22.96.

Here, they both ran notably faster, Healy’s 22.83 seconds to Adeleke’s 22.84, the two fastest times by any Irish women over the distance - and national senior sprint title number 14 for Healy. Only then with time restored came another realisation, the +2.1 m/s tailwind a silent whistle over the limit of +2.0. So ruled out for record purposes, just not for every other purpose, including Healy’s gentle reminder at age 26 she’s not ready to surrender this crown to the 18-year-old Adeleke, who had already won the 100m on Saturday.

Indeed in adding to her 400m title from Saturday, the Bandon woman also moved one step closer to qualifying for next month's Tokyo Olympics in three events: the 200m, 400m, and 4x400m mixed relay.


The half-lap sprint remains for now her preferred event and she will definitely be racing that in Tokyo, the Morton Stadium her last racing stop before the Games begin.

Clearly both athletes brought the best out in each other, every last ounce of effort too, Healy admitting she was “buzzing with my time, my fourth race in three days” but crucially too running to her own strengths, especially as Adeleke was a stride ahead coming off the bend and into the straight.

Adeleke, who doesn’t turn 19 until August, has also put her hand up for selection for that 4x400m mixed relay: “To be back at home after a long season (at the University of Texas), and still be able to run fast, I can’t be mad at that. And Tokyo would be a great experience, a really honourable thing to do,” she said. Either way Adeleke’s future is certainly bright (her 11.29 100m on Saturday also marginally wind-aided).

The men's 200m showdown which followed was a more one-sided, Leon Reid turning on every ounce of his style and class to take the win in 20.79 - this time with a legal wind reading of +1.8m/s - with his main rival Marcus Lawler losing out on silver to the fast-finishing Mark Smyth of Raheny Shamrock AC.

Still Reid now faces a possible showdown of an entirely different sort: last month, the 26-year-old sprinter appeared at Bristol Crown Court (along with 17 other defendants) where he denied eight charges relating to drugs and firearms offences in England.

A preliminary hearing is expected next month, the trial not expected to begin until November at the earliest; in the meantime Reid is well inside the Tokyo 200m quota, meaning his selection is now a decision for Athletics Ireland and then the Olympic Federation of Ireland.

“Today was all about cementing that place, I’ve done everything I possibly can,” said Reid, before later adding that Olympic selection would mean “everything” after all he’s been through.

Other sprint highlights of the weekend saw Israel Olatunde earn the title of Ireland's fastest man for 2021, the UCD student winning the men's 100m in best of 10.49 seconds to snatch victory on the line from defending champion Stephen Gaffney, who clocked 10.50. Olatunde only turned 19 in May, like Adeleke was born and raised in Dundalk after his family moved over from Nigeria, also learning his sprint trade at Tallaght AC under the keen tutelage of Daniel Kilgallon.

Healy wasn't the only impressive double-winner of the weekend, Hiko Tonosa winning at the other end of the scale over 5,000m/10,000m, the Dundrum South Dublin athlete winning the 25-lap race 29:41.88 ahead of clubmate Paul O'Donnell.

For those Irish athletes either already safely qualified for Tokyo or else hoping that ranking position will get them there in also proved a fruitful weekend. Sarah Lavin won another women's 100m hurdles, the Emerald AC woman clocking 13.17, and like many others around the world faces a nervous 48 hours before the final cut-off at midnight on Tuesday. For now her ranking is 36th, with 40 set to go.

Thomas Barr won title number nine in the 400m hurdles, after a two-year absence (winning the previous eight in succession), the swirling wind clearly favourable for fast times as he clocked 50.66, with Sarah Healy (4:15.08) and Andrew Coscoran (3:48.89), also for now safely inside the Tokyo quota, winning the 1,500m titles in impressive style.

Mark English bypassed Santry and instead raced at Sunday's True Athletes Classic meeting in Leverkusen, chasing the automatic 800m standard of 1:45.20. Despite a fourth excellent run in 13 days , he again fell just short, taking third in 1:45.51. He will have one last go in Barcelona on Tuesday, currently ranked 46th, with 48 to go to Tokyo.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics