sharlene mawdsley

'A lot of people wouldn’t have been disqualified for what I did. That's just how it rolls'

Sharlene Mawdsley reflects on the events which denied her a place in the final of the 400m at the World Indoor Championships.

SHARLENE MAWDSLEY HAS been forced to press the reset button a few times recently in her athletics career.

sharlene-mawdsley-ahead-of-running-in-the-womens-400m-semi-finals Sharlene Mawdsley ahead of the women's 400m semi-finals at the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

In 2021, she went from the high of helping the Irish 4x400m mixed relay team qualify for the Tokyo Olympics to the crashing realisation that she would not be competing at the Games. Earlier this season, a bone bruise in her knee prohibited her from running for 10 weeks. The cross trainer, the bike and a well-devised programme became her new training allies while waiting for the injury to heal.

And then came the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow with another uppercut: disqualification in the individual 400m. A place in the final had been ripped away from her after finishing third in her semi-final heat. The rulebook said she was guilty of an infringement on the final turn of that race, apparently cutting in illegally ahead of Austria’s Susanne Gogl-Walli.

“I kind of thought ‘maybe’,” she says when asked whether she suspected there could be trouble ahead after finishing the race.

It’s Mawdsley’s understanding that an athlete must be one metre ahead or one stride ahead before trying to move in to another runner’s slipstream. But the area is grey, and the rule is not frequently enforced. Mawdsely knew she was unfortunate to be facing the charges.

“The race was quite messy, of course there is argy-bargy all the time, but at the break I felt I was quite hard done by. The girl pushed me back, so I had to sit in on the break. A lot of people wouldn’t have been disqualified for what I did, but unfortunately, that’s just how it rolls.”

The aftermath was cruel for the Tipperary native. Initial signs indicated she would be permitted to run in the final as Athletics Ireland were launching a counter-appeal on her behalf. Then came the confirmation that she was formally disqualified. Upset, a sleepless night and endless repeats of how she executed the race followed in a sickly wave.

But there wasn’t much time to feel the sting of it. Her 4x400m relay team needed her back on the track. She was advised to leave off a training session with the relay team and take some time to process the disappointment, but she didn’t want to delay. There was some anxiety to face with switching on again, but ultimately, going back to the place where she had suffered the hurt would be the tonic she needed most.

“I knew I was in really good shape, so I wanted to prove I was.

“When I walked onto the track, I was like, ‘oh shit’. I was really nervous….the stadium was full of Irish people and they had my back.

“It was something special being able to go out and I ran with my heart. I knew that it was going to be really tough for us to get into the final, but I knew we really, really wanted to. It was pretty special.

“I met the girls for relay training on the Saturday, and it was actually fine. They were all disappointed for me, and we knew collectively we could pull something special off once we all pulled together.”

roisin-harrison-phil-healy-sophie-becker-and-sharlene-mawdsley The women's 4x400m relay team of Roisin Harrison, Phil Healy, Sophie Becker and Sharlene Mawdsley after setting a national record in Glasgow. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Mawdsley’s revival was fierce. In both the semi-final and the final, she was the second-fastest runner in the field. Her 50.48 was faster than Olympic bronze medalist and current world champion Femke Bol of the Netherlands. Along with Phil Healy, Sophie Becker, Roisin Harrison, and Mawdsley, the team ran a new national record of 3:28.45. Mawsdley went on to run 50.47 in the final to clock the second-fastest time again as the Irish team came home in fifth.

“Glasgow really showed that my training really has come on and I’m able to produce back-to-back runs when it really matters. I know now that I’m in good shape and that really helps me drive on for the next few weeks.”

Add in the turbo boost of Rhasidat Adeleke, and team Ireland has every reason to believe that a medal at a major championships is within their reach.

I think it’s really exciting once we have Rhasidat added into the mix. You do get excited and think what we could produce with Rhasidat too.

“We have World Relays first, but even going to Europeans, we should really be challenging for a medal, it shouldn’t just be that we’re hoping to get into the final. We should be challenging for a medal with Rhasidat on board.”

Mawdsley is back in training again after taking a week off on the back of the World Indoors. The outdoor season is now her focus as the road to Paris starts to become clearer. She knows her form is shimmering right now, but she feels blessed knowing that there are other competitions to concentrate on before she can even contemplate the Olympics.

The World Relay Championships in the Bahamas are coming up in May, followed by the European Championships in June. That schedule helps athletes avoid fixating on Paris.

It also helps Mawdsley feel more like she belongs among the elite athletes, a confidence she lacked somewhat in before the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“I was so stressed going into every race in the year of Tokyo. I had this huge wave of pressure on me and now I’m actually really excited. I think I deserve to be in these races. Before, I would have had a little bit of imposter syndrome where you feel that you don’t deserve to be here.”

It was in the days after the National Athletics Championships in Santry when Mawdsley was informed that she wouldn’t be travelling to Tokyo. She knew that was a possibility but the hope of making her Olympics debut was too great to detach from. She was in contention with Phil Healy, Sophie Becker and Cliodhna Manning for a place in the team. 

There wasn’t much separating them all, but this was a race Mawsdley knew she couldn’t finish.

“I ran the heat and stopped with 120m to go. I just didn’t really have the head for it at the time. Everyone’s watching the race, the relay places are up for grabs and, yeah, I just pulled up with 120m to go.

“I was just thinking the whole way round that, ‘Oh my calf is sore.’ Everything I could think of going wrong was going wrong, so I just stopped. I kind of had an idea after that but at the same time, you still live with hope and I eventually got a call a couple of days later to say that I wasn’t going to Tokyo.”

You train your whole life to be an Olympian and then it fell through my fingers. It was hard because I was on the team that qualified so I was big part of why the relay team went [to Tokyo] and then knowing that you’re not going to be in the biggest race of them all was quite hard.”

She didn’t intend to watch the Olympics but when the coverage began, she pulled herself out of bed in the early hours to take a look at what she was missing. The lessons she learned from that has altered her approach to qualifying for Paris. No more resets, only forward movement.

“I bounced back from that as I did from Glasgow.

“I’m not going in thinking I’ve qualified. Even though I know that I’m in a good position, there’s no way I’m guaranteed to be going. It is exciting but you can’t get too ahead of yourself.”

Irish track athlete Sharlene Mawdsley was speaking as she announces her new role as a Biofreeze Ambassador.

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