Phoebe Gill’s heroics puts Belfast Irish Milers’ meeting in the spotlight

Oragniser Eamonn Christie hopes to announce the date for the 2025 event soon

Phoebe Gill
Teenage running sensation Phoebe Gill

THE reverberations from last weekend’s Belfast Irish Milers’ meeting at the Mary Peters Track continue to echo around the athletics world.

Phoebe Gill’s sensational 1.57.86 800m run was featured on the national BBC sports report on Saturday evening and the web page got almost 600,000 hits.

It was a level of interest in a local meeting not seen for decades and all down to the initiative of one man – Eamonn Christie.

With the help of the Beechmount Harriers club and others, and the financial assistance of Tripadvisor and a myriad of smaller sponsors, Christie put together a meeting to rival Ireland’s other international meetings – the Morton Games in Dublin and the Cork City Sports – with a fraction of their budgets.

Christie was naturally “over the moon” with the success of the meeting, and rightly so, and hopes to announce the date of the 2025 event in the very near future.

“(It’s) Not every day a wee track meet in Belfast makes the BBC national sports round-up,” said Christie.

And what of the star performer? Gill, who had only turned 17 last month, ran herself into athletics stardom in less than two minutes.

“I’m in shock,” said Gill who awaits her Irish passport courtesy of a Roscommon granny.

“I was late for the race because I’d got the timings mixed up and then I just had to go there and do it.  I got out there a bit faster than the 58 (pace) first lap, I just kept pushing and, in the end, I didn’t even clock what I’d done.

“I thought that I might have some lactic in the last 200 because I went out so quick. I felt so strong and I’m so happy with the time because it is every 800m runner’s dream to run sub-2,” said the St Albans athlete.

Gill’s time was a European and Olympic qualifying mark, second fastest in the world this year, British U18 best, eighth in the British all-time list etc – but it was not a Mary Peters Track record. That remains in the name of the still world record holder Jarmila Kratochvilova from the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia) who ran 1:57.14 at the south Belfast facility on June 24, 1985.

However, there were two new track marks – in the women’s 400m and the men’s 800m. Dubliner Sophie Becker had competed in the Bahamas only days before and subsequently spent 24 hours at Philadelphia airport on Monday.

That did not prevent the Raheny Shamrock athlete from sprinting to a new personal best 51.13 seconds clocking – a European Championship qualifying time and just outside the Olympic mark. That displaced Canadian Charmaine Crooks’ 51.72 in 1992 from the record books.

The other new track mark came in the men’s 800m where Callum Dodds stopped the clock at 1:44.79 to erase the legendary Peter Elliott’s 1:45.25 in 1987 from the list. Not only a track record but an Olympic qualifying time for the 23-year-old Penn State student who had never previously broken 1:46.

Athenry AC’s Sean Doggett got a World U20 Championship qualifying mark in the 400m and there were also Irish Masters age group records for northern 1500m runners Kelly Neely and Conor Curran.

“Forgetting about the stars, I’m always keen that the ‘ordinary’ athletes do well,” said Christie.

“I counted and found that 72 per cent of the athletes who competed at the meeting came away with personal bests and I’m pleased about that.

“I’ll rest for a few days now and then start working on next year’s event,” concluded Christie.

It may be difficult to top the 2024 edition of the meeting.