Phil Healy takes long-waited route into European Indoor semi-finals
Despite heat not going to plan she was fourth best of four fastest non-automatic qualifiers
Ireland’s Phil Healy competes in the Women’s 400m heats in Glasgow. Photograph: PA
They say every indoor championship race is either an incident or an accident waiting to happen, and for a while at least it felt partly self-inflicted for Phil Healy. Turns out she was one of the lucky ones.
Ranked fourth fastest in the women’s 400 metres, Healy’s opening round heat at the European Indoors certainly didn’t go to plan. At least not immediately. Going out too fast, accidentally for sure, Healy was well up at the 200m break, was still leading coming into the short straight, only suddenly and swiftly found herself passed on both sides.
First by Raphaela Lukudo from Italy, who took the win in 52.99, then Deborah Sananes from France, who took second in 53.05, Healy third in 53.13; with only the top two automatic, plus the next four fastest across the seven heats, that meant a long and nervous wait for the next four heats to finish.
In the end Healy’s 53.13 was enough to see here through to this evening’s three semi-finals (8.36pm), fourth best of those four fastest non-automatic qualifiers, thus getting the very last spot of the 18 - the problem being that will result in an inside lane.
When she crossed the line Healy immediately put her hand over the eyes, not quite believing she’d finished third. “Just because I wasn’t in the automatic spot, because that’s what I wanted,” she said.
“I just wanted that automatic ‘Q’, I was still leading up to the last 10, 15 metres, so that’s disappointing. But at least I got that small ‘q’ next to my name, and glad to get another shot to get there and give it another go to try make the final.”
Did she go out too fast? “Yeah maybe, but I knew the French girl was going to come at me, because she is speed based. Yes, I probably pushed it a bit too much. But lessons learned. And again just thankful to get another go this evening, and give it the best I can. I got a tough lane draw in the World Indoors last year, so I’ll know what it will take.”
No such joy for Sophie Becker, fifth and last in her 400m heat in 53.99, outside her season best.
Indeed heats and lane draws often double their weight when it comes to indoor championship running, at least in events up to and including 800 metres, and both Thomas Barr and Cillin Greene found that out the hard way.
Barr, drawn on the inside lane of his 400m heat, never got into his stride. At the rear of the field at that crucial break, there was little in the tank when he went looking for it, and he ended up fifth in 48.22 seconds. His outdoor best, including the 10 three-foot hurdles over the 400m, is 47.97; this also short of his indoor best of 46.97
“I just wasn’t quick enough, wasn’t relaxed, wasn’t myself,” Barr said without a hint of an excuse. But no immediate regrets either at taking on the indoor season over what is effectively a different event.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said, after some pause. “It was a no pressure event, and the aim really was to work on my speed. Looking at the race, it looks like I’ve gone backwards, but it’s frustrating, because I’ve been feeling good all week. It’s just wasn’t there today, I felt like I’d run fast on the first lap, and I hadn’t, then I just felt gassed on the second lap.
“I’m looking forward to getting back outdoors already, having my own lane back, but it’s been good, being pushed out of your comfort zone a bit. And that’s valuable. It was a once off this year, really. And sometimes you need this. Athletics is such an up and down sport, I’ve still maybe had more highs than lows, and I’ll just have to put this down to a bad day at the track.”
Greene, just turned 20 and making his first senior appearance, never even got to finish. In the previous heat, also starting from lane two, Greene twice ran into trouble in the unavoidable sense: he found himself pushed into fourth at the 200m break, then just 30 metres later, coming off the back bend, he ran into Jan Tesar of the Czech Republic, who had tripped and fallen onto the track straight in front of him.
“Coming up to the break, I felt I was in a good position, then lost my stride pattern, which happens”, he said. “Then when he (Tesar) took a tumble I didn’t even get the chance to react. He just hit the ground, I just hit the ground.
And what was going through your head?” I just couldn’t move, in dismay really, shattered. It’s the best shape I’ve been in, so I just lay there, it didn’t really hit me at first. I’d no chance to react.”
Certainly a memorable debut, if for the wrong reasons: “Yeah, I won’t forget this one. But being here was a bonus. It’s still been an incredible experience.”
Siofra Cleirigh Buttner also fell short of a place in the semi-finals of the 800m, finishing fourth in her heat of the 800m in a time of 2:06.00, short of her Irish record of 2:02.46.
There were no such worries whatsoever for Jacob Ingebrigtsen, the 18 year-old Norwegian winning his 1,500m heat at 11.50 in the morning in 3:42.00, then coming out at 1.20pm to also qualify for the 3,000m final, winning that heat in 7:51.20, a European under-20 record. Incredible - the only worry for the family being older brother Filip was disqualified in his 1,500m heat. John Travers was 14th in that 3,000m heat in 8:12.54.
Later this evening, Ciara Mageean hits the track having made no secret of her intention to make the 1,500m final: drawn in the second of three heats (7.20pm), her recent Irish record of 4:06.76 ranks her second fastest being Simona Vrzalova of the Czech Republic (4:05.73). As long as she stays out of trouble Mageean should progress.
Likewise Mark English, looking for a first final place since winning silver at the 2015 European Indoors in Prague. Drawn in the third heat (8.04pm), his season best of 1:46.92 also ranks him fastest of the lot. Conal Kirk in heat two, and Zak Kirwan in four, face a little more daunting opposition, Andreas Kramer of Sweden, a 1:46.52 man, also in heat four.