We know there are people cheating so it’s good to see them getting caught – Irish sprint star Phil Healy

When it came to clean sport, Blessing Okagbare proved quite the curse.

ast week the Nigerian sprinter, one of the world’s fastest women, was handed a 10-year doping ban, which sent the strongest of messages to those caught cheating: tell the truth or face the consequences.

Okagbare, the world 200m bronze medallist in 2013, was given five years for having traces of human growth hormone (HGH) and recombinant erythropoietin (EPO) in her system before the Tokyo Olympics, and another five years for refusing to assist the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) in its attempt to uncover the wider web behind her doping.

One of those due to race Okagbare in Tokyo was Phil Healy, who saw last week’s decision for the good news story it was.

“It’s really positive they are getting caught and hopefully it’ll discourage people from cheating,” she says. “We know there are people cheating all the time and others are losing out on opportunities. It’s terrible to see but we’re not fools (about it) going on. We just have to play our part in keeping the sport as clean as we can.”

In an FBI indictment against an alleged doping supplier, Eric Lira, last month, Okagbare wasn’t named but was, according to the AIU, clearly identifiable as ‘Athlete 1’, who sent a series of texts to Lira asking for doses of EPO and HGH, telling him shortly after clocking a 10.63-second 100m that “whatever you did, is working so well”.

Cheats like Okagbare remain an unwanted presence in athletics, but Healy believes the tide is turning.

“It is always going to happen and people are getting away with it, but you have to focus on yourself. Luckily, in the Sport Ireland system we are tested regularly and everything is done to promote clean sport. It’s moving in the right direction.”

For Healy, the Tokyo Olympics will be remembered with a mixture of elation and disappointment. First there was the mixed 4x400m, with Healy helping the team go where no Irish team had gone before and reach an Olympic final. But after two hard 400m legs she was slightly below her best in the individual events, falling just one place shy of advancing from the 200m and 400m heats after clocking 23.21 and 51.98.

“Fatigue definitely played a factor and just falling short by one spot was disappointing because I knew what I was capable of if I didn’t have a run previous. We’ve learned a lot from it, that’s done now. I’m not going to compete in three events at another major championships.”

The relay, whether the mixed 4x400m or women’s 4x400m, is still in her plans but Healy will specialise on one individual event at the World Championships in Eugene and the Europeans in Munich – most likely the 400m.

She and her coach Shane McCormack have focused on 400m training this winter and Healy began 2022 in flying form, breaking 52 seconds on three occasions, most recently with a PB of 51.74 in Abbotstown.

She’ll focus on the 400m at the National Indoor Championships this weekend before the World Indoor Tour gold meeting in Madrid next Wednesday, her final race before next month’s World Indoor Championships in Belgrade.

For years Healy has been a key part of a rising tide in Irish sprinting, with teenage star Rhasidat Adeleke doing similar, the 19-year-old Dubliner setting Irish indoor records at 60m, 200m and 300m in recent weeks.

“She will hold every record in years to come, or in weeks to come,” says Healy. “It’s great to see the sport is improving and there’s massive potential there (for the women’s 4x400m). If everyone is in form, we should be competing with the top countries.”

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