Guide to the Cork athletes ready to make a splash in the Tokyo Olympics

Andrew Horgan profiles the Cork-based athletes competing in track and field events in Tokyo
Guide to the Cork athletes ready to make a splash in the Tokyo Olympics

Michelle Finn of Leevale AC. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

THE long wait for the beginning of the Olympic Games in Tokyo is almost over.

The continuing Coronavirus pandemic across the globe had wreaked havoc on plans to host the event in the capital of Japan in 2020 but finally, after over a year of turbulence and much change, it is finally set to commence this weekend.

It will still be called Tokyo 2020 though and it will run from tomorrow until August 8.

Unfortunately, with the Japanese government declaring a state of emergency in the country recently because of a huge outbreak of Covid-19, the athletes won’t be roared on by the potentially huge numbers of Irish fans that would have attended, or any fans at all for that matter.

But in more positive news for Irish fans, Team Ireland will be taking a sensational total of 116 athletes to the Games, the biggest team in its history with its previous high being 81 athletes for London 1948.

Despite the huge number at that event 73 years ago, Ireland failed to secure a single medal but, with the high level of athletes they have at present, they will be confident of doing better this time around.

The last time Tokyo held an Olympics was back in 1964 and only one member of Team Ireland that travelled back then was female.

Now, 61 female athletes will get the opportunity to compete for their nation with Cork’s Phil Healy one of those that will likely receive top billing.

But in athletics, in particular, there are four other Leesiders alongside Healy that we look forward to seeing fly the Ireland flag - and maybe even the Cork flag as well if they get the chance - which we have outlined for you below including when they are set to compete although that is subject to change.

Louise Shanahan:

Whatever happens at this Olympics, Louise Shanahan has already enjoyed a hugely successful year. After a couple of near misses over the last few seasons, the Rochestown native won her first national senior 800-metre title in Santry back in June, controlling the race throughout before kicking for home in the final straight to secure the victory in a time of 2:03.62. It was a performance that deservedly earned her one of the Echo’s prestigious Women in Sport awards for Spring and Summer, but more importantly for the Leevale AC runner, it secured her a place at the upcoming Olympics.

Speaking to the Echo recently, Shanahan admitted that qualifying for the Games has come “ahead of schedule” and that if they had been held when originally planned, she wouldn’t have even been in contention. That has brought one huge positive from the Coronavirus pandemic for Shanahan, who won at the European Youth Championships in the 800-metre at the age of 13, and now she is eager to make the most of it. 

There’s no doubt she is going to give it everything she has and it is set to be an incredible experience for her as she builds towards her initial target of competing well at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. 

Round one of the Women’s 800m is set to take place at the Olympic Stadium on Friday, July 30 between 5pm and 8.30pm Irish time.

Aoife Cooke:

Aoife Cooke qualified for the Tokyo Olympics after an incredible performance at the Cheshire Elite Marathon back in late April. The marathon was run over a seven-and-a-half-lap flat course that was organised for elite runners aiming to hit the Tokyo standard. She certainly hit that as the Eagle A.C runner convincingly beat the women’s Olympic qualifying standard, which is set at 2:29:30, by winning the race in a brilliant time of 2:28:36.

The Ballincollig native surpassed her personal best by just over four minutes and now, on the penultimate day of the Games (Sunday, August 8 from 3am Irish time), the 34-year-old Cork athlete will toe the line at the Sapporo Odori Park in only the 10th ever women’s Olympic marathon. She recently headed to Utah in the USA for training to ensure she is in peak condition come race day

Michelle Finn:

While competing at the Olympics Games will be a new experience for many, it is something Kanturk native Michelle Finn already knows plenty about. Finn ran the 3000-metre Steeplechase at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro but despite passing three competitors during the final stretch to come in 11th with a time of 9:49.45, she had the 39th fastest time in the heats and unfortunately missed out on a place in the finals. 

The Leevale AC runner will be in a confident mood heading to Tokyo though as she has been in excellent form in 2021.

Finn achieved the Olympic qualifying standard for the 3,000m Steeplechase on the first day of the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland at the beginning of June with a time close to nine seconds inside her previous best. And then at the end of that same month, Finn claimed her fourth successive 3,000m Steeplechase title with a powerful run that saw her secure the win in a time of 9:36.94. Round one of the Women’s 3000m Steeplechase is set to take place at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday, August 1 between 5:10 pm and 8 pm Irish time.

Alex Wright:

Alex Wright is another member of Leevale AC that will be showcasing his talents at the Olympics in Tokyo having booked his place with a personal best performance in Spain at the beginning of June. Wright was competing at Gran Premio Cantones de La Coruna and the 20km race walker finished in a time of 1:20:50 to secure his spot at the Games by finishing just under the Tokyo qualifying standard time of 1:21:00.

 Alex Wright of Leevale AC, Cork, competing during the Irish Life Health National 20k Walks Championships. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
 Alex Wright of Leevale AC, Cork, competing during the Irish Life Health National 20k Walks Championships. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Born in London, Wright had initially hoped his first Olympics would be in his hometown in 2021 competing for Great Britain but instead, he made his debut at the Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 racing for Ireland, whom a few years later he would lead to its first European team bronze medal. Wright was convinced to move to Cork by the legendary race walker Rob Heffernan and he has gone from strength to strength under his tutelage, which he hopes will continue in the weeks ahead. He will test himself in the Men's 50km Race Walk Final which will take place on Saturday morning August 7 from 3:30 am Irish time at the Sapporo Odori Park.

Phil Healy:

And last, but certainly not least, is Ireland’s fastest woman; Phil Healy. The Ballineen Bullet has already endured an incredible racing career that eclipses most others but she has still somehow managed to get even better in 2021. Healy opened her year with a 400 metre personal best of 51.99 in Abbotstown two weeks before driving to victory in both her heat and semi-final at the European Indoor Championships in Torun, Poland. 

Phil Healy.
Phil Healy.

In the final, the Bandon AC runner narrowly missed out on a medal but her fourth-place finish proved that she could compete with the best. 

She used that experience to her advantage and back at the end of June, she added national titles number 13 and 14 to her list of honours with wins in the 200m and 400m races in Santry. Not a bad haul of medals for a 26-year-old.

And now, after making her mark already in Ireland and in Europe during the first half of this year, next up for Healy is the Olympics - the biggest stage of them all - where she will be hoping to enjoy more success in the 200m, 400m, and mixed relay. Her quest for glory, and a busy few days, begins on Saturday week with round one of the mixed relay starting between the early hours of 3am and 5am, round one of the Women’s 200m is set for Monday, August 2 between 5pm and 7.55pm while round one of the Women’s 400m is to take place Tuesday, August 3 between 5pm and 7:55 pm. All three are in Irish time and will be held at the Olympic Stadium.

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