Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Ulster sprinter wants Euro final say after false start controversy

Amy Foster is presented to the crowd at the World University Games in Shenzhen in 2011
Amy Foster is presented to the crowd at the World University Games in Shenzhen in 2011

Amy Foster was fuming. Seasoned athletics observers had never seen this normally mild mannered athlete so upset.

The 24-year-old sprinter from Newtownards seethed with a sense of injustice, making her feelings known in animated terms to the trackside officials.

In the form of her life Amy was disqualified from the final of the 60m for false starting at the Irish Indoor Championships in Athlone less than a fortnight ago.

She couldn't believe it. Nor could her perplexed coach David Reid. Her rivals were also stunned because quite simply Amy Foster does not false start.

Prior to this Foster had been involved in an incredible 186 senior races and never jumped the gun!

The defending champion, poised to beat the Irish record time of 7.30 seconds, protested but the officials refused to budge declaring that the reaction time readings indicating a false start were correct even though television replays questioned that theory.

The controversy remains the talk of Irish athletics ahead of this weekend's European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg.

Amy, one of many sprinters who fell foul to the new sensitive equipment, remains adamant that the readings were wrong, believing she should have raced in the final rather than sit it out.

The only consolation for the University of Ulster student was that in the previous day en route to the final she had blitzed to a time of 7.33 meaning she had reached the qualifying standard for Sweden, guaranteeing her subsequent selection for the Irish team.

On Saturday the City of Lisburn Athletics club member will race in the European heats, hoping to reach the final on Sunday which would more than make up for events in Athlone.

"In the past few years you would have needed 7.30 seconds to make the final of the European Indoor championships and the Irish record is 7.30 so certainly if I can run the Irish record I'd like to hope that could guarantee a place in the final," she says.

"At the Irish Championships I believed breaking the Irish record was on. I ran the heat on the Saturday and was feeling brilliant but knew I could improve and believed there was a faster time to come in the final. I thought I could have dipped under 7.30 or at least been very close to it.

"I'm not a confrontational person. I don't like arguments. It's not that I wouldn't stand up for myself but I would always try and be nice to everybody and never cause anyone a hard time. That day I knew I hadn't false started and there was no way I was walking off the track without having my say.

"I didn't even think about it, it was just instinctive for me to go and argue my case because I was confident that I hadn't false started. I'd never felt so angry in all my life. I was actually shaking afterwards but I felt I had to put my point across.

"I'm proud of how I conducted myself and don't think I overstepped the mark, though maybe the officials will say differently.

"I still thought that I should be allowed to run but out of respect for the other athletes I made my point and left it at that.

"At least I had reached the standard for the European Championships on the Saturday. I would have felt even worse had I not achieved the time the day before."

Channelling all that passion could be key to Amy's ambitions for 2013 – making this her breakthrough year and biggest yet in the sport she has grown to love.

After the European Indoor Championships, Foster has the World Student Games in July and World Championships in August, both in Russia, with the 100m and 200m in her sights.

"I've been to every European and World competition at under 20 and under 23 level. I haven't made a final in the big events yet, so that's the next aim," says Foster, with more belief than hope.

"I'm 24 now so certainly within the next two, three and four years hopefully that will be my time and I'll make big improvements.

"I still have a lot of time to gain in the 100m and 200m so right now it's about progressing and hitting standards to get to the World Championships."

She is confident, as is coach Reid, husband of Northern Ireland Olympic triathlete Aileen Morrison, that those standards are attainable, which should also see her qualify for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

"My best in the 100m is 11.49 seconds and I need 11.45 and in the 200m, which I didn't run too often last year, my best is 23.53 and I need 22.40," added Foster. "I'm happy with my form at present. It's all about getting out and doing it now."

Questionable false starts notwithstanding.

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