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‘There’s a difference this year and Phil is able to finish a race strong’

Friday, 1st March, 2019 1:00pm

Story by Kieran McCarthy
‘There’s a difference this year and Phil is able to finish a race strong’

Phil Healy on her way to winning the women’s 400m at the Irish Life Health National Senior Indoor Athletics Championships in Abbotstown. (Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile)

Ballineen bullet has what it takes to contend for a medal at European Indoors

 

SHANE McCormack is adamant that no-one wants to get involved in a race with Phil Healy at this weekend’s European Indoor Championships in Glasgow.

The Ballineen speedster’s coach watched her improve again through the winter and is convinced she can be involved in the 400m medal race on Saturday evening.

Healy (24) is ranked fourth fastest in Europe over this distance ahead of the weekend’s action.

‘Phil’s a front runner, she’s a speed-based runner. Our plan is always go to the front and stay at the front because there is nobody in the Euros, bar maybe Lea Sprunger, who has Phil’s flat speed. There is no-one running 11.2 for the 100 metres and 21.9 for 200 metres, so Phil’s unique. No one will want to race her,’ McCormack says.

In the lead up to the European Indoors, Healy comfortably defended her Irish indoor 400m title in style at the recent national championships. 

‘She led from gun to tape in both, and to run 52 seconds solo is probably more impressive than what people realise but it’s no harm either that people aren’t jumping up and down about it. We just want to get her to Glasgow and let her lose,’ McCormack explains.

That came after an impressive 52.31 win at the Vienna International Meet in January where she finished ahead of The Netherlands’ Lissane De Whitte, who was a bronze medallist at the 2018 European Championships, and Britain’s Eilidh Doyle, who won bronze at the 2018 World Indoor Championships.

But it’s her run at the Millrose Games in New York that pleased McCormack the most. This is where Healy came from fourth at the bell to finish just behind the USA’s Jaide Stepter. 

‘Forget about the times because the track is not a fast 400-metre fast track. That race was fantastic for her because she was surrounded by girls who were all faster than her and she’s not normally fourth at the bell. She positioned herself well and stayed out of trouble. She could have taken a different line and got herself in trouble, but it was good that she had to run a race that was different to everything she had ran before,’ he explained. 

The Bandon AC sprinter is in good shape for the European Indoors. Last year before the World Indoors she had been a bit sick around the nationals and that slowed her momentum a little, but she’s had a clear run this year and has ticked all the boxes.

Even though last year she went on to break several national records and become Ireland’s fastest woman over both 100m and 200m, we’re now seeing a better version of Healy too, McCormack explains.

‘Since the day she ran the World Indoor semi-final last year (she finished third in this race), we knew the 2019 Euros were a realistic shot. She wasn’t ready last year. She’s still learning the 400 and she didn’t have the gears to come home – but there’s a difference in her this year and she is able to finish out a race strong,’ he points out.

‘She’s after harder training this winter that she wasn’t able for the winter before. This winter she trained harder than she ever had in her life.

‘I think what she had last year was lightening quick speed but not enough endurance whereas this year she has very good speed and endurance.’

Off the track, she’s ice cool this week too. Healy has a bigger bank of experience to draw on so this weekend is not as big a deal as it might have been.

‘It’s not a big emotional roller-coaster for her. It’s just another race. This is her zone. This is what she likes, the build-up to the big race,’ McCormack says.

Last week she travelled to Dublin for a training session with Sophie Becker who will also compete in the 400m this weekend. Healy and McCormack flew out to Glasgow on Tuesday, a day ahead of the Athletics Ireland team. Her heat is on Friday lunch-time with the semi-finals that night, and the final on Saturday evening. Touch wood, Healy will be in the medal race.

‘Let’s call a spade a spade, she has as good a chance as any of those top 15 girls at winning a medal. It’s quite open,’ her coach says. 

‘To box her into a top three when there is so much depth in the quality is a lot to put on someone, but it doesn’t faze her. Maybe it would have fazed her in the past but not now. 

‘You need a lot of luck going over there. She is seeded because she has one of the fastest times going in so she will get a favourable lane draw, but it’s how you navigate the heats then. You have to finish top two in your heat to get a favourable draw in the semi, and likewise in the semi you want to be top two to get a good lane draw for the final. It boils down how you qualify into the final. There is a bit of luck needed.’

Healy’s 400m PB is 52.08. Her fastest time this year is 52.31. But times go out the window in the big events.

‘Championship running, you could win a medal with 52.5. There are the different rounds and they’ll be tired by the time it gets to the final. I have no doubt 51 will probably win it but it’s more about duking it out and getting through the rounds,’ McCormack says.