THEY had no medals to show for their efforts, but the victory for the Irish mixed 4x400m relay team was reaching the Olympic final last Saturday.
Phil Healy and her team-mates – Cillin Greene, Sophie Becker and Chris O’Donnell – are the first Irish relay team to ever reach an Olympic final. That feat alone is progress.
Even better, this quartet achieved that goal by shattering the national record in their heat the previous day.
On Friday, Healy – on her Olympic debut – ran the second leg as the Irish relay team sizzled with a 3:12.18 in the Tokyo heat – and that took four seconds off the previous national record.
‘There is so much more in this team,’ Healy explained after the heat that saw Ireland upgraded to a second-place finish after both the USA and Dominican Republic were disqualified post-race.
By Saturday’s final, both the USA and Dominican Republic were reinstated and it swelled the number of teams in the final to nine, with Ireland then moved to lane one. It wasn’t ideal, but Ireland just got on with the job.
The same Irish four in the same order – Greene, Healy, Becker and O’Donnell – couldn’t replicate their heroics of the previous day as they finished eighth in 3:15.04, but that is still the second fastest time ever by an Irish mixed 4x400m relay team. Poland, in 3:09.87, took gold, with Dominican Republic and USA filling the other medal places.
‘To come eighth in an Olympic final is unbelievable,’ Healy said.
‘Getting here to the Games was a massive achievement and to get to an Olympic final is a dream come true. Every member of the team stepped up and performed. Our time was inside our old best time that we had coming here and that’s a credit to everyone involved.’
In the race itself at the Olympic Stadium, Greene, who clocked the fastest first leg split of any athlete in the competition a day earlier, handed the baton to Healy with Ireland in fifth. The Ballineen Bullet had a lot to do in a busy leg, yet negotiated her way through traffic to hand the baton to Becker in seventh. Here, Becker gobbled up the track, as did O’Donnell who finished very strong again. Reflecting on her own leg Healy mused: ‘Initially we were drawn in lane five and that changed throughout the day, and there were nine teams instead of eight teams, and I knew it was going to be a tough ask.
‘On my leg the majority were new into the teams today so they were fresh. Cillin set me up and I tried everything to put our team in contention. The German runner crossed in front of me just as we were coming to the changeover so that made me stutter a little – but we gave it everything.
‘To come eighth and represent the nation is unbelievable.’
Far from being the final destination, this is just one step on a much longer journey for the Irish mixed 4x400m relay team. They qualified for the Games back in May when they reached the final at the World Relays in Poland, and that has also guaranteed them a place at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Oregon. Healy and Greene were the only two survivors from the Irish team that qualified in May and that highlights the strength in depth, the West Cork woman explained.
‘To qualify from the World Relays was the first step, then we wanted to come out here and do the best that we could,’ Healy said.
‘Running 3:14 was our target and we shattered that and ran 3:12.
‘To come eighth in an Olympic final is crazy, it sets us up for Oregon next year. It shows the depth that we have now in 400-metre running and the team has changed so much this year. Four of us performed out there, we have two great subs back in the warm-up and we had three others members who were part of the team getting here. We gave everything from lane one, we gave it all.’
Greene added: ‘It’s an incredible experience to be out here. No one gave us a shot at making a final, so to step up on the biggest stage is an astronomical experience for us all.’
For Greene, Becker and O’Donnell, their Olympics ended there, while Healy moved on to her individual events on Monday and Tuesday.