After winning it the hard way and still making it look easy, Sarah Healy wrapped up another golden moment for the Irish team at the European Under-18 athletics championships – completing arguably the hardest track double in the process.
It's hard not to get excited by that: no one is arguing events in Gyor, Hungary are anything more than a stepping stone to what potentially lies ahead, but Healy's double gold over 1,500m and 3,000m, along with Rhasidat Adeleke's gold in the 200m and Sophie O'Sullivan's silver in the 800m certainly augers well.
Healy was ranked 10 seconds faster than anyone else going into the 1,500m final, only that guarantees nothing. So tactically she went pure blitzkrieg, hitting the front after the first lap and soon leaving her rivals strung out behind her, like beads on a string, before winning in 4:18.71, another championship record just like the 9:18.05 she ran to win the 3,000m on Friday.
“Yeah, I decided to take it on after one lap, just to stay out of trouble, and speed it up from there,” said Healy, who is unbeaten in her age group all year, and finished four seconds clear of Britain’s Emily Williams.
“And Rhasidat and Sophie yesterday definitely spurred me on, and just got me excited. It was a long day, waiting around, but I was just very relaxed, and it’s such a good team atmosphere, Irish people cheering for me when I came onto the track, and that’s just great. And thank to my mam and dad and my coach Eoghan Marnell too.”
The 17-year-old from Monkstown in south Dublin travelled to Gyor targeting the 1,500m only, but after qualifying for the final in that distance earlier on Friday, Healy set about the hardy double, looking equally unbeatable when winning the 3,000m, run as a straight final.
The team atmosphere clearly played a role, both Adeleke and O’Sullivan running lifetime bests and clearly the performances of their short careers to date. Silver sat perfectly well with O’Sullivan – the same colour of course that her mother Sonia won over 5,000m at the Sydney Olympics – even if ultimately conceding victory to the highly impressive Keely Hodgkinson from Britain, the pre-race favourite who lived up to her billing with a championship best performance of 2:04.88.
O’Sullivan, still only 16, clocked 2:06.05 in second, with Gaël De Coninck from Sweden hot on her heels in third, in 2:06.14. Slightly boxed after the first lap, O’Sullivan swept around the front of the race down the backstretch, before Hodgkinson bolted for home around the final bend.
Her mother was invited to present the medals by the European Athletics Federation, and said of her daughter's race: "I was a little more nervous for the semi-final, for her to get into the final, and knowing she didn't want to miss out on the final. So no pressure, no expectation, I just wanted her to walk off the track and be happy, and she is, delighted with her performance.
“Her dad asked me how I thought she’d run, and I didn’t want to make any predictions, but the 800m is one of those events, if you’re in a good position, and you’re a competitive person, anything can happen. And I felt if she was in range of the top three she’d get a medal – and I was just delighted for her, really. And to be part of the Irish team, her first Irish team, all the girls have been very welcoming and hopefully for many more years to come.”
Adeleke from Tallaght AC, still only 15 and one of the youngest in her event, had improved her 200m best to 23.77 to make the final earlier in the day, then bettered than again with her superb 23.52 seconds in the final, the fastest under-18 time in Europe this year – and enough to hold off Britain’s Gemima Josephy, who ran 23.60 in second
“I’m lost for words, I really wasn’t expecting that,” said Adeleke, who had several members of her family in Gyor to congratulate her. “You work all year, there will be doubts and things that will bring you down but coming out with the gold is crazy.”
Indeed Adeleke improved on the silver medal she won for Ireland at the European Youth Olympics last summer. Born in Ireland to Nigerian parents, she has never considered herself anything other than an Irish athlete, already winning several schools titles running for Presentation Terenure, and also juvenile club titles with Tallaght AC, where she is coached by Johnny Fox.
With dual Irish-Australian citizenship, O’Sullivan is free to compete for either country, up to and including the under-18 grade, only after which her nationality becomes more lasting on the sporting stage. Although coached by Tim O’Shaughnessy at Melbourne Track Club, given her mother’s influence it’s not hard to see her running for Ireland again. Soon enough, no doubt.