The European Indoor Championships gave fans four days of exciting racing, with Irish athletes doing their country proud. What is not to be underestimated is the difficulty level of this competition and advancing through the rounds. Indoor racing brings its own excitement as each tactical move is made, there’s so much hustle and bustle, with little time on the straight to make moves.
You find yourself holding your breath, wincing at the jostling and pushing, praying the Irish athletes get through the commotion unscathed.
Based on their times, some Irish athletes were seeded highly in events, and this can bring the expectation that they will make a final – BUT you can not forget the tactics at play.
Championship racing is a whole other ball game than just running fast times and progressing through the rounds is not easy. In the 1500m women’s race, three Spanish athletes operated as a unit, trying to control the race and block other athletes from breaking through. They forced athletes to run wide and attempted to prevent some of Europe’s fastest 1500m runners from claiming a medal. A must-watch race if you’re interested in truly understanding the dynamic of competition.
The European Indoor Championships proved to be a great competition for Ireland as a team, with Phil Healy making her first major international final, securing fourth place and a new personal best.
Healy made it through the heats comfortably and in the semi final she took no chances, sitting at the front and racing hard to the finish line to secure the win of the semi final. The final of the 400m was enthralling. Femke Bol of the Netherlands, who is best in the 400m hurdles, had incredible pace and owned the race. While some may say fourth place is agonisingly close, Healy herself instantly took the positives from the competition. “Coming into a final, its bonus territory. I’m buzzing and to come away with that performance in that world class field, I’m thrilled.”
This is a win for Phil Healy. She has established herself as one of the fastest in Europe, achieved a European final which will give her immense confidence and while this Championships was important for Healy, the Olympic Games later this year is her priority. She picked up crucial points for Olympic qualification and we could be looking at Phil Healy, competing in her first Olympic Games in the 200m and 400m events.
The 800m racing has been at an all time high for Ireland with several athletes running incredible fast times. Siofra Cleirigh Buttner and Nadia Power were seeded highly in the event, 3rd and 5th respectively, but a fast time does not always mean a place in the final. There was expectation that Cleirigh Buttner would at the very least secure a place in the semi final but it did not happen for the Irish record holder.
Going back to the point of Championship racing, Cleirigh Buttner ran her Irish record in what could be considered a more “comfortable” environment. Teammates Heather MacLean and Siofra Cleirigh Buttner stormed the final lap to first and second place respectively. While there is incredible competitiveness, there is also a different level of comradery between these athletes, than when Cleirigh Buttner was fighting for a place in a European semi final.
There is no doubt that Siofra Cleirigh Buttner is one of Ireland’s finest talents but unfortunately at this championships, she let others control what should have been hers. She had the capacity and talent to take the race by the scruff of the neck and secure her position, however this tactical error cost her. With Tokyo qualification on the horizon, she will take this as a lesson learned and focus on her bigger goal of making it to the Olympic Games.
Nadia Power was also in action in the 800m and would have had newfound pressure on her entering this Championships following a successful season of personal bests and records. She left nothing up to chance, possibly taking a lesson from Cleirigh Buttner, and ensured that she secured her position in the semi final.
Power’s semi final saw her put in a monstrous effort and run a tactically good race. The former Irish record holder ensured she didn’t get into trouble by getting boxed in and put herself in the best position possible. Knowing Power’s style she pushes in the middle of the race but sometimes runs out of steam in the last 100m. In this competitive European field, she couldn’t hold on to retain that qualifying spot but played to her strengths and gave it her all.
As Power looks forward to Tokyo qualification, this is exactly what she needs to gain experience of Championship racing, as she steps up to race the top athletes in the world. Power has loads to be proud of this season setting several personal bests and Irish records.
Sprinting at Indoors is incredible and Emerald Athletics Club athletes Sarah Lavin and Ciara Neville can be proud of their performances. The two athletes also progressed to the semi final in their respective events which bodes well for the future and shows the promise of the Irish team.
Sarah Lavin, second on the All-time list in the 60m hurdles is inching closer and closer to Derval O’Rourke’s record. Lavin has been on fire this season achieving PBs time and time again. In sprinting, every race you must give 100% as it is down to the finest of margins. She ran a personal best of 8.06 in the heat to secure a place in the semi final and then followed up with a time of 8.07 which was not enough to progress to the final. Lavin will be delighted with her 9th place finish at European Indoors and this Indoor season will go a long way for boosting her chances to qualify for the Olympics, as well as giving great satisfaction and confidence.
In the 60m sprint, Ciara Neville was the only Irish athlete to make it to the semi finals. Over in the blink of an eye, Molly Scott and Joan Healy bowed out in the heats. Neville boasts strong finishes and her power and speed got her through to the semi final. The standard is incredible at this level and for someone who has done very little racing in the past 12 months, Neville’s pace and raw talent is unquestionable. This time around the semi final was too quick for Neville as she ran 7.37 and the slowest qualifier in her semi ran 7.27. It’s exceptionally quick at the moment but we have no doubt this is not the last time we will see her at this level.
All in all, it was a great Championship for Ireland as the young and talented athletes picked up vast experience which they will carry with them as we head towards the Outdoor season. All eyes turn to the road to Tokyo and getting as many qualifications for the Olympic Games as possible. Remember the names, there’s lots more to come!