Silver lining for Laura Muir as she summons the spirit of Bannister

Poland set a new world record in the men’s 4x400m relay at World Indoor Championships

It's hard to get greatly excited about a World Indoor Championships where all the Irish interest is over almost as quickly as it begins. Which is a pity, because most of what unfolded in Birmingham over the last four days was excitingly great.

Including, for better or for worse, a litany of disqualifications, mostly for simple lane infringements, but also obstruction, pushing, or indeed both.

But, neatly wrapped up with a new world indoor record in the men’s 4x400m relay – only not for the fancied Americans, but the fast-finishing Poland team – Birmingham offered another timely reminder that track and field is far from dead.

Still, many of those disqualifications denied several athletes their place on the podium, including the British women’s 4x400m relay team, who originally finished third, then got the dreaded DQ next to their result. As did the Jamaican women, who thought they had won silver behind the Americans, which meant Poland and the Ukraine both got promoted to the podium.


That reduced the British medal tally to six: distance-running silver and bronze for Laura Muir, bronze for Eilidh Doyle in the 400m and Shelayna Oskan-Clarke in the 800m, and gold for Katarina Johnson-Thompson in the pentathlon and Andrew Pozzi in the 60m hurdles.

For the five Irish athletes who qualified for Birmingham, it was all over by the Saturday morning. Phil Healy did progress to her semi-final of the 400m, where she ended up third – partly thanks to the disqualification of an athlete ahead of her. Overall Healy ended up ranked 12th, again partly because of three disqualifications, though her semi-final time of 53.26 was off her season best of 52.08.

“I said I was going to go out there and die fighting and I’m proud of my performances at these championships,” said Healy, who at 23 does still offer much room for improvement.

Amy Foster and Ciara Neville both exited in the first round of the 60m, as did Ciara Mageean, second last in her heat of the 1,500m. "I'm disappointed but I know I'm running better than that," said Mageean.

Then Ben Reynolds ended up ranked 29th in the 60m hurdles – all of which raises yet further questions about the level of coaching and high performance within Athletics Ireland, especially reaching the halfway point through the current Olympic cycle.

Sunday’s climax of events was tense – including a strictly tactical men’s 1,500m, won by Samuel Tefera from Ethiopia in 3:58.19. And yes it was 1,500, not the mile. Team-mate Yomif Kejelcha did something similar to win the 3,000m in 8:14.41, while Francine Niyonsaba, who two years ago won Burundi’s first world indoor gold, defended her 800m with a sense of dominance more familiar with Caster Semenya, running 1:58.31, a world lead.

Finished third

The most emotional disqualification came in the men’s 400m final on Saturday, especially given original race winner Oscar Husillos found out about his DQ while being interviewed on Spanish TV. Emerging from the ashes of that race was feisty Czech Pavel Maslak, who became the first three-time winner of the event, even though he’d originally finished third.

Husillos was first across the line in 44.92, a championship record, but that was short-lived following his disqualification for a lane infringement. Likewise Luguelín Santos, the 2012 Olympic champion, originally second, thus paving the way for Maslak’s historic triumph – not that he necessarily saw things that way.

“I think the guys were stronger than me and I do not know what went wrong for them,” said Maslak. “They would have beaten me anyway so even if it is gold, it will have a bronze flavour for me.”

Husillos appealed the decision but it was to no avail.

Several athletes complained about the steepness of the bank on the bends, especially on the outside lanes, leading IAAF president Seb Coe to say: “The DQs have been ratified using video footage but perhaps greater familiarisation of different tracks ahead of competitions could be a way forward. We will talk to the athletes and seek their views.”

No such worries for Muir, the 24-year-old Scot in the final year of her veterinary degree, who seems to summon some of the spirit of the late Roger Bannister in her heroic quest to get the best out of herself.

Having won bronze behind the Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba and Sifan Hassan from the Netherlands in the 3,000m, Muir went better again to win silver in the 1,500m – this time getting the better of Hassan, while Dibaba won in 4:05.27, only the second woman to complete a World Indoor 1,500m-3,000m double since Gabriela Szabo of Romania accomplished the feat in Maebashi in 1999.

Muir surged into second with 100 metres to go and stayed there, crossing the line in 4:06.23, with Hassan third in 4:07.26.

“I wanted to get on the podium again,” she said. “I ran my socks off and I came home with the silver this time.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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