Bandon AC sprint star Phil Healy shares her recent Belgrade experience
IF the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Belgrade taught me anything last weekend, it’s that anything can happen in a championship race and you need to be able to adapt fast and think on your feet.
This was my first time competing at these championships so I’ll take a lot from the experience and I also got to the semi-finals of the 60m, which is another plus – but it was definitely a busy few days.
It started off with the heats of the 400m on Friday morning, and I was concentrating on the 400m more so than the 60m heading into the championships.
I finished third in my 400m heat, in 54.80, which wasn’t enough to qualify for the next round – but the race was far from smooth with the Polish athlete falling in front of me at the bell and that knocked me off my stride.
I called it a disaster of a race afterwards – but I’ll learn from that. There was nothing more I could have done.
The heat draw came out on Thursday evening, I was in heat one, lane five. That would mean leaving the hotel at 7am on Friday morning. I was happy with the draw: a great lane and a good opportunity to place in the top two.
At 6.30am on Friday morning, I was just gathering my stuff and getting ready to leave the hotel room when my coach Shane McCormack rings me to say European Athletics have changed all the heat draws. I’m now in heat three, with totally different athletes – the European 400m hurdles champion who won silver at the Olympics in Rio, the European 400m champion and a Rio finalist, along with a quick Czech athlete Denisa Rosolova in lane four.
I knew that in lane three, I was going to have to work harder that the other girls over the first 150m, to try and make the break to cut in for the bell. Inside lanes are a lot tighter than the outside.
I got to the break point in a super position, I really attacked the first 150m, there’s nothing more I could have done at that point. I don’t think the other girls expected me to be up there at that stage either, as they said it to me after.
The four of us were racing in a line, the French athlete Floria Guei pushes the Czech girl in lane four, she cuts right in front of me, there was further pushing and Rosolova falls and hits the rail. I was trapped in the inside, more than the French (Guei) and Danish (Sara Slott Petersen) girls so it was easier for them to move out.
So I went from lane one, out to lane three, and back into lane one, in order to pass out the Czech girl on the ground. It totally messed up the momentum of the race. It was as if I had to start again at the 200m mark; it was a real stop and start and my rhythm and fluidity was messed up.
By the time I’d passed Rosolova on the ground, the other two had gone from my reach. It all happens so quickly and you wouldn’t realise how easy it is to build the gap: that’s the joys of 400m indoor running when you don’t have your own lane. That’s why 400m outdoor will be great, you have your own lane the whole way around and there’s no cutting in.
I had to forget the 400m quickly and move onto the 60m on Saturday; that was my Plan B, if the 400m didn’t work out. I was never going to be as fresh as I had the 400m run in my legs from Friday, but I was delighted to secure automatic qualification in the heat, just .08 off my personal best. It wasn’t easy with so many races in such a short space of time.
In the semi-final on Sunday I ran 7.39 and finished sixth. I have to be happy overall coming away 14th overall in the semi-final. We had to restart the semi-final, I didn’t get the best of starts the second time, my reaction time from the blocks was much slower – but going home as the quickest of the Irish in the 60m, the only Irish athlete to compete in two events and on every day of the championships are some of the plus points.
I’ll take all that and use it as a confidence boost when I get back into hard training over the next week or so, in preparation for outdoor season that culminates with the World University Championships in Taiwan at the end of August.
It’s worth noting that the track in the Kombank Arena in Belgrade was only a temporary surface and will be taken up again in the next few days. The times in the championship overall weren’t quick. Girls that usually run 51/52 low were only running 53 seconds, so I have to be happy with 7.39, 7.40 coming home when I’m not running with totally fresh legs. The 400m time isn’t a true reflection of the shape I’m in as chunks were lost in the fall catastrophe. The French athlete, Guei, ended up running over 1.5 seconds quicker in the final than she did in our heat.