Phil Healy: ‘To make an Olympic final, it was just crazy, unbelievable’

Sprinter reflects on Tokyo Games and looks at what it will take to get more Irish athletes into finals

Phil Healy passes the baton to Ireland team-mate Sophie Becker during the final of the mixed 4x400m relay at the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph:  Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Phil Healy passes the baton to Ireland team-mate Sophie Becker during the final of the mixed 4x400m relay at the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

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No regrets, any reflection on Phil Healy’s Tokyo experience always hinging on one thing: she ran in an Olympic final.

Still there are some lasting questions and Healy is quick to embrace them: might she have been better off focusing on one or two of her individual sprint events and not the mixed 4x400m relay first? And what will it take to get more Irish athletes into finals come Paris 2024, let alone challenge for a medal?

Healy was part of the mixed relay quartet that on the opening day of the track and field schedule made the final, the only Irish presence in the any final, which came just 24 hours later. That left Healy just two days to recover before the heats of the 200m, the heats of the 400m coming just a day after that. She missed out on both semi-finals by the narrowest of margins.

“Olympic finals in track events are just so rare in Ireland,” says Healy. “We had an aim of 3.14 going out there, and we ran 3.12. That alone, shattering the national record by four seconds. But to make an Olympic final, it was just crazy, and to share that with five others as part of the team, was just unbelievable.

“Obviously I had to turn the focus to the individual, the recovery time was really, really short. It came down to the fine margins, I suppose, with the 200m and the 400m. Just being five hundredths of a second off in the 200m, and seven hundredths of a second off in the 400. I went to the Games in personal best shape so I knew that there was an awful lot more, so definitely walking off the track in the 200m, I was very disappointed knowing that.

“You do have to sacrifice your individual [events] to a certain element, but it’s an Olympic final that you’re competing in. For me looking at it, individually, an Olympic final individually is not a realistic aim at the moment.

“So the best hope of an Olympic final was part of the relay, but I knew that I could make an Olympic semi-final individually. It was disappointing knowing that I was so close in the 200m, knowing that I could have ran an awful lot faster, but then I just moved that disappointment into the 400m and definitely blew my expectations out a bit.”

The Irish mixed relay have already qualified for next summer’s World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA, and for now Healy is unsure whether or not she’ll focus on the relay first. “It comes down to the timetable as well, like if it’s a European Championships, the individuals are always first. So, that will become the priority.

Ireland’s Phil Healy finishes fifth in her heat of the 200m at the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ireland’s Phil Healy finishes fifth in her heat of the 200m at the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

“For an Olympic Games, to have a relay team at the Olympic Games is, so it was a great platform to show we have the ability to compete on the world stage against world class athletes, and to make that final was unbelievable.

“As we go on in the year, maybe I will take just one event, and I know for these Games, I know some people were saying I should have focused on one event, but to qualify for an Olympic Games is unbelievable, to qualify in three events took so much work and dedication, and planning, so I was going to go out and do that, and make history as the first Irish woman to do that.

“As we go on, next year at World Championships, whether I pick the 200 over the 400 or vice-versa will depend on the way things go. But that will play out in itself.”

Asked what it will take to improve Ireland final hopes on the track he said: “I think people forget the amount of nations that compete in athletics in comparison to other sports, and that you’re actually up against in world class fields, the best of the best.

“Things can improve. I look at coaches, which is obviously a massive element, and our coaches that are there are volunteers, speaking from my own individual perspective, Shane McCormack my coach, he’s a volunteer coach. He’s lucky he has the support from his family and his work, he has a full-time job, he took a sabbatical to go to Tokyo. So it’s all coming from his own expense, and I think if we want the results in athletics the investment needs to be there in the coaches. To produce the medals, and make Olympic finals. That’s definitely a gap that needs to be filled to take it to the next level.”

Phil Healy was speaking at the launch of the Girls Play Too 2: More Inspiring Stories of Irish Sportswomen, by Jacqui Hurley, available in Lidl stores nationwide

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