Southern Star Ltd. logo
Premium Exclusives

Joan Healy: If I can’t go to an Olympic Games as an athlete, I want to get there as a coach

February 18th, 2024 4:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Joan Healy: If I can’t go to an Olympic Games as an athlete, I want to get there as a coach Image
Joan Healy is one of the top athletes West Cork has produced.

Share this article

JOAN Healy insists there will be no last-minute change of mind – she is retiring from athletics this summer.

‘I am set in stone,’ she states, and the Ballineen sprinter takes comfort in the finality of her decision because she is convinced it’s the right move for her.

The injuries have caught up with Healy. She has poured herself into athletics, even reducing her working week as a teacher at Terence MacSwiney Community College in Knocknaheeny to three days, but because of injuries is not reaping the rewards. 

She’s 31 years old now and feels ready to embrace the next step of her athletics career: coaching.

‘If I can’t go to an Olympic Games as an athlete, I want to get there as a coach,’ Healy states.

‘I am comfortable with my decision to retire this summer because I know I was capable of going to an Olympics with that 4x100m women’s relay team, but decisions outside of my control meant it wasn’t possible, and I’ve been very unlucky with injuries too.’ 

The morning before her wedding day on October 7th last, Healy hopped out of the protective boot she had worn for the previous eight weeks because of the fat pad injury in her left heel that cut short her outdoor season last summer. With her heel strapped, she walked down the aisle. The day after, Healy was back in the boot again. Her mini-moon was spent minding her foot, too. It feels like she’s been stuck in a never-ending cycle of injuries.

Joan Healy is determined to sign off in style this year.


If it had all gone to script, Healy would have retired from athletics in 2021. She had a plan: qualify for the Tokyo Olympics with the Irish women’s 4x100m team, become an Olympian and then sprint off into the sunset.

But an Achilles heel in March 2021 injury dashed that dream.

It left her with unfinished business, so she put retirement on hold and redoubled her efforts to become an Olympian. Paris was – and, despite the slim odds now, still is – the target, but regardless of how the next few months pan out Healy has again set an end date. This time she won’t change her mind.

‘I had always said when I came back after the Achilles injury that August 2024 was the end date. How events have transpired over the last year have made that very final and very sure,’ she explains.

‘If you are ever going to make a difference you have to get stuck in yourself and get involved, and my aim is to get involved in coaching.’

Healy is convinced Ireland has enough talent to qualify an Irish women’s 4x100m team for an Olympics, but the stars haven’t aligned, much to her frustration. There was the setback in 2021, but given the shorter Olympic cycle for the Games in Paris, three years instead of the usual four, Healy put her retirement plans on hold.

‘I felt there was more running left in me,’ she says, and the focus was on the 4x100 relay team. They ran at the World Athletics Championships in July 2022, but finished eighth in their heat. Due to withdrawals, that team was not as strong as it could have been, Healy laments. Then came a hammer blow: the relay squad was not sent to the 2022 European Athletics Championships in Munich the following month. Healy appealed the decision, highlighting how posting times at the Europeans would set the team up for 2023 and boost their chances of earning a spot at the 2024 World Athletics Relays in the Bahamas this May, which is effectively the relay qualifying competition for the Olympics. 

‘By not going to Munich I had to chase up trying to get a team out on the track last year,’ she explains, but the damage was done. Healy was part of the Irish women’s 4x100m team sent to European Team Games in Krakow in June 2023, but they didn’t feature at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest later that summer. They needed a fast time to qualify for the World Athletics Relays in May, a low 44-second run Healy points out, but they didn't hit that target. Add in Healy’s own foot injury that flared up last summer, and she’d have been forgiven for thinking the sporting gods were working against her. 

‘The foot injury was not going away and it was leading to other issues, and it all came to a head in the national 100m in July when I was in pure and utter agony running every race that day. I cut my season short after that,’ she explains. Healy ended up being sidelined for 14 weeks, her winter training block took a hit, only getting into her spikes in December. Even now she’s still playing catch-up in what will be her last competitive season.

There is still an outside chance Healy and the Irish women’s 4x100 relay team could qualify for this summer’s Game. At the World Relays, 14 teams will qualify, so it leaves two spots still up for grabs. Ireland needs a fast time, and realistically they need an athlete like 100m record holder Sarah Lavin to make herself available for one relay race to record a fast time. A lot of ifs and buts there, but what Healy does know is that she wants to make a difference as a coach.

‘Sprinting in Ireland has come on leaps and bounds, we had an opportunity to have Ireland’s first 4x100m team at an Olympic Games and we didn’t take it, which is disappointing, but the potential is there and I want to help out,’ she says. 

‘In September I am going back to college, to do my Masters in psychology, and I will balance that with my teaching. It’s to add another string to my bow. Hopefully I can work towards my Sport Ireland coaching accreditation and start working with athletes. 

‘I will be dipping my toes into coaching locally, and helping out the group I was part of as an athlete. The plan is to work my way up, between the psychology and Sport Ireland accreditation – and I have two of the three coaching levels with Athletics Ireland completed – so if a job comes about for the 4x100 relay I would love to throw my hat in the ring.’

Joan Healy set her 60m PB of 7.30 in February 2023.


Healy was part of the Irish women’s relay team that set the 4x100m national record in 2018 – her younger sister Phil Healy, Ciara Neville and Gina Akpe-Moses completed the line-up. She has competed for Ireland on the World and European stages, too, in the 60m and 100m, but feels relays offer Irish sprinters the best chance of success.

‘I put myself in an event that is one of the most competitive in the world. Unless you are running sub-11 seconds as a woman you are not going to get to the Olympics as an individual. The only way athletics is going to get on the world stage in Ireland is through relays and that was shown by the 4x400 mixed and 4x400 women,’ she says. Healy did all she could to drag the Irish women’s 4x100m team to an Olympics, but sometimes it felt like running into the headwind of a storm. Her immediate focus is getting back up to speed and going out on a high. There’s still plenty to look forward to – the European Athletics Championships in Rome in June, hopefully, the Irish senior championships this summer and Cork City Sports in July.

‘I would really like to sign off in July or August with some really good races, and be happy to hang up the spikes knowing I did what I could,’ she says, before hitting the books for college as the next stage of her athletic career moves off track.


Share this article

Related content