Irish quarter milers turn up the heat in Beijing, writes James Sullivan.
After a few quiet days, there was joy for Ireland on the penultimate day of the World Championships in Beijing. The Irish quartet of Brian Gregan, Brian Murphy, Thomas Barr and Mark English broke the national record in the 4x400m relay heats this morning, with a clocking of 3:01.26, bettering their previous mark from Zurich last year by 0.41.
“I think we probably got the most out of our team today,” remarked English, who anchored the team home to 13th place overall. “We were up against the toughest competition in 4x400m that I’ve ever seen. It’s something we can work on now for the Europeans. I think the Europeans are where we can really make a mark next year if we can get everything right.”
The team were chasing from the back of the field throughout, with the race being won by the USA in a world leading time of 2:58.13, while Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Cuba and Botswana all clocked sub three minutes in what was a loaded heat.
“The 400m is definitely the one event at the moment which is out of this world,” said Gregan, who ran the lead-off leg from the outside lane. “You saw what happened in the heats, semi finals and finals here. People are dropping 43s left right and centre. Needing to run 43 to win a medal is absolutely astonishing.”
“But I think the team can run faster and get close to three flat, and take it into territory that we never thought was possible. Morning sessions are always difficult too. You’re body is not fully awake, no matter how well you prepare for it. You’re probably firing at 98%, so if it was a bit later I think we could run even faster. To drop a 3:01 at ten in the morning is pretty impressive.”
Despite running faster than any Irish quartet in history, Brian Murphy, who ran the second leg, feels that the fact the team could only manage eight in its heat is a reflection of just how difficult it is to get to this level, and qualify for global championships, where only the top 16 countries in the world are invited.
“People often fail to see how big the world is and how hard it is to qualify for championships, and to be here at all is outstanding. To finish 13th in a national record, I don’t know how much more you could ask. There’s a bunch of other teams not here, who have the potential to run well, particularly South Africa. They didn’t get a team qualified, which says something about how difficult it is to qualify for these championships.”
However, despite this morning’s achievement, the team have no plans to stop the upward curve, with qualification for the Rio Olympic Games next year a firm target for each of the athletes involved.
“I’d say we’ll need to run three minutes flat to qualify. But I don’t think that’s a big worry for us,” remarked English “We’re well capable of it. If we can get four guys running 45 seconds in the individual 400m, that’s going to put us at 3:00, maybe a 2:59 if we get lucky. We’re a small nation and we are holding our own, and there’s a lot of potential left. If everyone can get into perfect shape next year, there’s no reason why we can’t make an Olympic final. We can all see ourselves in that final, and as long as we think like that then it’s possible to make it.”
With such strong depth in men’s 400m running, Gregan believes that Rio must not be the sole focus, and that a long term approach must be taken with regards Irish relay teams.
“I think this team deserves some kind of investment, with team camps away. Beyond Rio, It needs to keep being built up, it can’t just be dropped. It needs to keep going. You saw the women’s team qualify for London, and then after that nothing happened. We need to build this on, and all well and good if we qualify for Rio, but it needs to keep going, the team is quite young, so we need to keep pushing and pushing it, to bring the event on domestically, which will help us as a relay team.”
Murphy echoed Gregan’s comments. “This is an event where Ireland will have continued success in the future, if it wants it.”