Phil Healy’s run for the ages restores some faith in athletics

Raw excitement and innocence helps anchor 4x400m relay leg by UCC student go viral

It's the one sporting video it seems people can't stop viewing, and not just for the performance of Phil Healy. Because to put it in its full and proper context it has to be first seen to be believed, then believed to be seen.

It started out as what should have been an inconspicuous climax to the Irish Universities track and field championships in Santry last weekend. Only for the 21 year-old Healy, running for UCC, to produce an anchor leg of the women's 4x400m relay which by Friday morning has attracted more than 1 million YouTube viewers (not including countless others via media sites that have reposted it).

Some of those may have been repeat views, and for good reason, but it’s gone beyond viral, more like frighteningly epidemic: Healy isn’t within sight of the lead runners chasing down the backstretch, is still only fifth coming into the homestretch, and then the rest has to be seen to be believed.

Indeed it's been seen all around the world – from the US to New Zealand, as major sporting news sites and TV channels (including ESPN's SportsCenter) try to make sense of it all.


The commentary has to be heard too, Cathal Dennehy, assisted by Ronan Duggan, describing Healy's late surge as coming from "the depths of hell" – a line even Dante himself would be proud of.

Now, those who haven’t yet seen it stop reading here – because neither UCC’s winning time (outside four minutes) nor Healy’s last 400m split (of around 54 seconds) are in any way exceptional. In fact those times are suitably irrelevant.

Raw excitement

Instead, what sets this performance apart is the utterly raw excitement and blissful innocence of it all. UCC's winning time may be some 45 seconds outside the world record of the old Soviet Union, and Healy's split some seven seconds outside the world record of East Germany's Marita Koch, yet therein lies the attraction of it all: it's a performance which can finally be believed to be seen, rather than be doubted in any way by doping or fixing or some other form of modern sporting corruption.

This is exactly what Dennehy has been saying when trying to make sense of it all, recognising that the significance of the video goes far beyond Healy’s time or performance or incredible will to win. (Dennehy himself is no stranger to epic race finishers, a former 800m specialist renowned for his late finishing spurts, before turning to athletics media). It has restored at least some faith in athletics, some sense that the sport is still worth believing in, and that certainly is true.

There will be far more significant and historic races on the track this summer, by athletes earning tons of money and with a lot more at stake, and Healy herself knows that. It’s unlikely too she’ll even qualify for the Rio Olympics, but even at this early stage in the season, she may well have produced a run for the ages.