Alex Bell lived up to top billing in the Belfast IMC Meeting at the Mary Peters track with the fifth fastest women’s 800m seen in the world this year. But that was just one highlight in an incredible afternoon of world class performances with records and best times being scattered like tenpins. The event was the best of its kind seen at the venue for decades and excellently organised by meeting director Eamonn Christie and his team.

While many athletes are frantically running all over the USA and Europe in search of qualifying times and points, Alex Bell decided to return to Belfast where she had won in 2016. Running on what she describes as her “lucky track”, the Pudsey & Bramley athlete went through the halfway point on the heels of pacemaker Sinead Denny in a swift 58 seconds.

Left on her own at the front and with Georgie Hartigan on her heels, she ploughed on in the lead until the final bend when she managed to distance her pursuer. Showing typical Yorkshire grit, Bell kept the pressure on in the homestraight to break the tape in 1:58.52, an IMC record and fifth fastest in the world in 2021. Behind her Hartigan recorded 2:00.18 for a personal best and, more importantly to her, a family record edging out her mother Bev’s 2:00.39.  

John Fitzsimons (right) gets home of Harry Purcell (24) and Roland Surlis (21)

The Bobby Farren Memorial 800m was also a cracker even in the absence of Irish number one Mark English who opted for races on the continent this week. Kieran Kelly took the pace, taking the field to the 400m mark in 52 seconds when John Fitzsimons took up the running from Harry Purcell and Cavan man Roland Surlis.  

You could have thrown a blanket over the trio right the way to the line with the Kildare man getting the decision by thousands of a second over Purcell, both sharing the same 1:46.53 timing. Surlis was a close-up third in 1:46.74 as the first seven men all recorded personal bests.

Another world class mark came from Phil Healy in the women’s 400m. The Cork woman’s 51.50 clocking put her in the global top 40, but she had to work hard to shake off an inspired Sophie Becker who went under 53 seconds for the first time with a 52.32 mark. Healy had warmed up earlier with a fast 200m in 23.29 (-0.4), to strengthen her claims to a place in the shorter event in Tokyo this August. Cillin Greene led another host of personal bests in the men’s 400m stopping the clocking 46.45.

Another Olympics-bound sprinter Marcus Lawler showed that lockdowns in the Republic had done him no harm as he stretched out to an impressive 20.99 clocking in the men’s 200m. Jacob Olatunde set a new national U23 record in the 100m, stopping the clock at 10.61 in almost still conditions. Molly Scott made short work of the opposition in the 100m with a promising early season 11.91 timing.

The men’s 1500m saw the first three men all record new bests with Darragh McElhinney a clear winner in 3:43.87. Similarly, Carla Sweeney had plenty to spare in the women’s metric mile clocking 4:17.57. Lisnaskea’s Masters’ champion Denise Toner impressed in third with a 4:20.80 mark.

Earlier Michelle Finn had opened the programme with a 9:39.44 3000m steeplechase to consolidate her Olympics ranking and new recruit to Ireland’s distance squad Tonusa Hiko impressed with the fastest 5000m (13:36.71) seen in Belfast for some years.