BY JOHN WALSHE
HER mother may have been a Bandon Olympian in Sydney back in 2000, but at her current rate of progress 17-year-old Roisin Willis looks a sure bet to follow in her footsteps but this time it be in the USA colours rather in the green of Ireland.
Last Friday night at the Boston University arena in one of the most incredible races in the history of US high school athletics, Róisín Willis was one of two girls to obliterate the US high school indoor 800m with a time of 2:00.06.
The meeting, at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational, saw Róisín, a senior at Stevens Point Area Senior High School in Wisconsin, come home first to take almost two seconds off Sammy Watson’s previous record of 2:01.78 from 2017. Not far behind, Sophia Gorriaran, 16, a junior at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island, ran 2:00.58 to finish fourth.
Willis’ time is not only the new US high school record, it is also is the second fastest in the world in 2022 and well under the World Indoor Championships qualifying standard of 2:01.50, though Willis said she is not currently planning on running the US Indoor Championships in two weeks time, instead preferring to focus on high school competition.
Róisín’s mother is Bandon native Breeda Dennehy-Willis who competed for Ireland at the Sydney Olympics. She is still ranked the fifth fastest on the Irish all-time lists for both the 5000m and 10,000m with respective times of 15:12.83 and 32:11.30 achieved that same year of 2000.
Before Phil Healy at the recent Tokyo Games, Breeda, who joined Bandon AC back in 1982, had been the club’s only Olympian to date. Before gaining a scholarship to Western Kentucky University, she had won several Irish titles up through the grades from the BLOE All-Ireland U12 cross-country championship.
To put Róisín Willis’ time into perspective, only one Irish woman – Ciara Mageen in 2020 – has run faster for 800m indoors or outdoors. It was also a significant improvement on her last race at the Millrose Games two weeks before when she ran 2:03.28 and it also bettered Willis’ outdoor best of 2:00.78 from last summer.
‘I was trying to lower my 800 PR for a while now, so just to come out here and run 2:00 just very comfortably, I’m just super excited,’ Willis stated. ‘I was right where I wanted to be, but I felt people coming onto me, so I was trying to really stay on guard with my competition.’
For now, however, the 17-year-old who is heading for Stanford University after high school, has a more pressing concern: ‘I have a lot of homework to do, I have so many tests. Going to these Friday meets are just kind of hard because you have to miss a lot of school, especially flying and everything.’