‘Finishing the race, I always want more’ Ciara Mageean

New Irish indoor 1500m record holder Ciara Mageean eyes strong showing at the Olympics ahead of training camp.

“It was heart-breaking not be sent to the London Olympics on a ‘B’ standard. Qualification does taste even sweeter knowing all the hard work I have put in.”

Hard work is Irish athlete Ciara Mageean’s response to adversity. It will see her train for two weeks in Spain and it will see her train extensively in preparation for the Olympics.

Unfortunately, she has had to deal with adversity a little too often in her career so far. Injuries have plagued the career of one of the brightest talents in Irish athletics.

As a teenager, Mageean regularly broke Sonia O’Sullivan’s underage records. She displayed her prodigious talent when she won the 2008 Irish Indoors at just 15 years old. She claimed silver medals in the 1,500 metres at the World Junior Championship in 2010 and European Juniors in 2011, and competed in her first senior international championship at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

She set her sights on making the 2012 Olympics but was knocked off-course by the first of a series of debilitating injuries. Determined to reach the elusive ‘A’ standard to qualify, she ran three races in 10 days. The extra pressure on her recovering body hardly helped in the next few years as she struggled to train, let alone race.

Injury Hell

Surgery on a bone spur on her ankle allowed her to make a comeback in 2014 to win the Irish 1,500 metres title but disaster struck again. She missed most of the 2015 season through an injury to her other foot, including the European Indoor Championships.

Mageean was not about to lose a chance of making the Olympics again. She ran twice under the qualification mark in Italy in September 2015 to qualify for Rio. Last month, she smashed the Irish indoor 1500m record Germany, finishing third in a high quality field. For Mageean, it is just the beginning.

“Jerry was there through my tears and triumphs”

“It is always a great feeling to run a new record. To know you’re the fastest Irish woman ever at that event is a truly special feeling. I always hope to run faster, so finishing the race I always want more.”

The UCD student credits coach Jerry Kiernan for her achievement. Former Olympian Kiernan is perhaps best known for being an athletics pundit on RTE. There, he frequently stands up for the little man (athletics) against the sporting titans of GAA, rugby and soccer in Ireland.

It is perhaps no surprise then that Kiernan was happy to approach Mageean at her lowest ebb, someone who was feeling down who needed Kiernan’s passion to give her a much-needed boost.

“Jerry began coaching me prior to my ankle surgery. He took me on while I was in possibly in the worst place I have ever been as an athlete. Jerry helped coach and guide me through not only the physical training back from my surgery but also proved to be a great friend.”

“He was there through my tears and my triumphs.”

Portaferry Girl

Ciara Mageean grew up in Portaferry, County Down, a small town near Strangford Lough noted for its fishing and scenery. The 23-year-old grew up in a Catholic-majority area at the tail-end of the Troubles, and enjoyed camogie and Irish dancing. It was only when she got the opportunity to take up running in secondary school that she found her niche.

“Now” she says. “I am lucky enough to have two major areas in my life – athletics and physiotherapy.” She studies physiotherapy in UCD and combines the thankless task of being a student and an elite athlete. Luckily, her college have been accommodating to her lifestyle.

“I have been fortunate enough to have the support of the UCD School of Physiotherapy and UCD Ad Astra. Therefore they have helped me along my way. I split a year due to surgery. I will graduate at the end of 2016, and have enjoyed my college / running balance.”

She hopes that she will graduate after a strong showing at her first Olympic Games. When asked about her expectations, she was bullish about her chances.

“I will enter with the same ambition that I enter every race, my goals are to make it through the rounds and once you’re in the final, anything can happen.”

“The mile has all the elements of drama. Those who can drive themselves further once the effort gets painful are those who will win” Sir Roger Bannister once said.

If this is the deciding factor in the 1500 metres in the Olympics, surely Mageean has a great chance of success as someone who has overcome her fair share of drama and pain in her short career so far.

By David Gorman