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25th Aug 2021

Phil Healy: “Ireland can compete on the world stage in relay”

Sarah McKenna Barry

After an incredible Olympics, Her caught up with Phil Healy to chat athletics, inspiration and ignoring ‘couch-side commentators’.

Phil Healy made Irish Olympic history this summer before she even set foot on the track at Tokyo.

The Cork sprinter entered the record books as the first Irish athlete to compete in three events at a single Summer Games – the mixed 4x400m relay, the 200m heat and the 400m heat.

In the relay, Phil captained the team and they surpassed their own expectations.

“We had a mean of 3:14, and we ran 3:12 so that alone blew our expectations,” she told Her. “And then to see that we qualified and then bumped up further when there were disqualifications.

“An Olympic final is just crazy, and everybody in the team stepped it up and really, really delivered on the day. Every person performed their best. It was great to see everyone come together, and we had two great subs as well, it wasn’t just the team that was out there on the day.

“Now we can see that Ireland can compete in the world stage in relays, there’s so much more to come.”

Admittedly, it was an Olympics like no other. With Covid-19 safety restrictions in place, friends and family couldn’t attend, but Phil’s focus wasn’t on the empty stadium, it was on her sport.

“You put all that aside,” she explains. “You’re there to run. It’s your lane, your race.”

The Olympian also notes that because supporters couldn’t attend, the camaraderie among Team Ireland was next level.

Spirits were lifted further as medals won for Ireland were brought back to the Olympic village. Phil particularly remembers when Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy returned with their gold.

“It was just unbelievable seeing the Irish crew come out and line the area and give them that guard of honour. That buzz rippled through the whole team and just gave everyone a massive boost. It was just surreal.”

Millions of people around the world tuned in to watch the Olympic coverage, and an unfortunate side-effect of new eyes on the sport is an increase in feedback from people Phil describes as “couch-side commentators.”

“To get to an Olympic final in athletics is just massive,” Phil explains. “Some people think that if you don’t bring home medals, it can be seen as failure. But Team Ireland performed phenomenally well to make the Olympic final in relay. That was just unbelievable for the whole team, and we will take massive confidence from that individually knowing what we can do.”

She continues: “There are so many more fans watching, so you can be open to a lot more criticism, but you just have to focus on your job. People will comment positively or negatively, and you just have to block that out and have your supports around you. If things go well, great. And if they don’t, you have your team to help you deal with that.”

Phil is one of the many Irish sportswomen featured in the brand new book, Girls Play Too 2, so it’s no wonder she has excellent advice to pass on to younger female athletes.

She encourages aspiring Olympians to “move away from the overall winning mentality”.

She explains: “If you don’t win, it can be seen as failure. But if you go out there and do your best and walk off that track happy, you’re winning for yourself.”

She also points to the importance of exploring different sports until you find something you love.

“Don’t let the pressures of other people dictate what you do,” she says. “I really didn’t develop into athletics until I was 18, 19, even later than that. So stick with it. Explore the events because you never know what’s for you.”

You might think that after a sensational Olympics, an athlete of Phil’s standard would want to take it easy, but she has no intention of slowing down any time soon. Preparation is already well underway for next year’s World Indoor Championships and World Outdoor Championships.

Phil is also aware that it’s a rather short cycle until the next Olympic Games.

“There’s a lot of international competitions between now and then, so the focus is on that,” Phil says. “And before we know it, Paris will be around the corner.”