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World Indoor Athletics: Sarah Healy and Sarah Lavin targeting finals as some Irish big names skip event


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Every major championship begins with the hope that anything can happen if you make the final. It helps that at a World Indoor Athletics Championships, where events are invariably decided on tighter margins, that anything often does happen.

For the small Irish team of just 10 athletes, contesting six events, that’s the main hope too going into the 19th edition of the championships, which get under way in Glasgow on Friday morning. And it may come down to a tale of two Sarahs.

Now less than 150 days out from the Paris Olympics, there’s no Rhasidat Adeleke, Ciara Mageean, Mark English or Andrew Coscoran, who would unquestionably have been targeting finals in Glasgow had they not decided to bypass the event.

Not all leading athletes are seeing it that way. Armand Duplantis, Femke Bol, Karsten Warholm, Noah Lyles, Ryan Crouser and Gudaf Tsegay are some of those looking to Glasgow as the prefect stepping stone to their Olympic medal ambitions. Britain’s medal hopes are also resting on Josh Kerr, the World 1,500m champion, and Glasgow’s own Larua Muir, both running the 3,000m.

Of the 10 Irish athletes in Glasgow, Sarah Healy and Sarah Lavin are openly targeting their finals – Healy ranked fifth fastest in the women’s 1,500m after improving the Irish record to 4:03.83 earlier this month, Lavin, ranked seventh, already making the 60m hurdles final two years ago, and recently improving her lifetime best to 7.91 seconds.

“Undoubtedly there could have been more athletes there, if they had targeted Glasgow,” says Paul McNamara, Athletics Ireland director of high performance. “But athletes have to do what is right for them, in their wider, bigger plans. It is Olympic year, that’s the big dance.

“The Europeans [in June] will also be a big launching pad for many, then for the relays, the focus is really the World Relay Championships in the Bahamas in May, which are critical for Olympic qualification.

“But we would like to see a final for Sarah Lavin and Sarah Healy, and a medal is not an outlandish prospect. We’re not seeded for a medal, we’re not expecting a medal, but again anything can happen at a championship.”

Still, it’s hard to believe it’s 18 years now since Ireland last won a medal at these championships, although that wasn’t widely expected either, Derval O’Rourke famously improving through the rounds of the 60m hurdles at the 2006 championships in Moscow – running 7.93 in her heat, 7.87 in her semi-final, then 7.84 in the final to win a brilliant gold medal.

Two years before that, the Irish men’s 4x400m relay snatched an unheard-of bronze medal, aided in part by the US team dropping the baton, and the Bahamian team falling over.

The only other individual Irish entries in Glasgow are sprinter Israel Olatunde, the 21-year-old from Tallaght winning a third successive indoor 60m title this season, plus Sharlene Mawdsley in the 400m and Róisín Flanagan in the 3,000m. Mawdsley will also head the women’s 4x400m team which also includes Sophie Becker, Phil Healy, Roisin Harrison, Rachel McCann, and Lauren Cadden.

McNamara wasn’t anticipating Adeleke’s inclusion, given she sustained a minor ankle injury before her only indoor 400m of the season in Albuquerque last month: “Her position had always been ‘let’s see’, and for the top end athletes, I often describe the indoor season as the candle in the wind. If there is any issue at all, athletes pull back.

“But she [Adeleke] has committed to the World Relays [on May 4-5th], with the top 14 there get to qualify for Paris, and right now we’re looking at the women’s 4x400m, and a mixed 4x400m.”

Healy’s quest for a medal isn’t made easier by the presence of three Ethiopians. Ordinarily, each country is allowed two per event, Freweyni Hailu getting a third wild card spot for Ethiopia after winning the World Indoor Tour series. She joins Birke Haylom, who has run 3:58.43 this season, and Diribe Welteji, who has run 3:55.47.

Likewise with Lavin, her medal quest in the 60m hurdles coming up against two recent world record holders, Bahamian star Devynne Charlton running 7.67 in New York earlier this month, before Tia Jones equalled that at the US Indoor Championships.

“Sarah Lavin made the final two years ago, nowhere near seeded,” adds McNamara. “And she is a championship performer, does go through the rounds, at the very least is looking to make the final.

“With Sarah Healy as well, her 4.03 was a very positive run, and her coaches both felt there was definitely more there. It’s not that deep a field, if Sarah can get down to 4.00, in a final, anything can happen.”

Just turned 23, Healy’s 4.03.83 took over two seconds off the previous record held by Mageean. That also came just a week after Healy broke Mary Cullen’s national senior indoor record over 3000m with 8.36.06. Interestingly her training partner Georgia Bell, also coached by Trevor Painter at their Wigan base, is also named in the British team, having run 4:03.22 last month.

Irish team, World Athletics Championships, Glasgow March 1st-3rd.

Israel Olatunde: 60m (Tallaght AC) Coach: Daniel Kilgallon

Sarah Healy: 1500m (UCD AC) Coach: Trevor Painter/Jenny Meadows

Sarah Lavin: 60m hurdles (Emerald AC) Coach: Noelle Morrissey

Róisín Flanagan: 3000m (Finn Valley AC) Coach: Damon Martin

Sharlene Mawdsley: 4x400m relay, 400m (Newport AC); Coach Gary Ryan

Sophie Becker: 4x400m (Raheny Shamrock AC); Coach Jeremy Lyons/Gerard O’Donnell

Phil Healy: 4x400m (Bandon AC) Coach: Shane McCormack

Roisin Harrison: 4x400m (Emerald AC) Coach: Eoghan McNamara

Rachel McCann: 4x400m (North Down AC) Coach: Michael Roberts

Lauren Cadden 4x400m (Sligo AC) Coach: Dermot McDermott

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