By James Sullivan
Ciara Mageean runs in the 1500m final at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin this evening, chasing a piece of history in the process.
Sonia O’Sullivan and Derval O’Rourke are the only Irish athletes to have won more than one medal at the European Championships. Having claimed bronze two years ago in Amsterdam, the Co. Down athlete will join this exclusive list if she makes the podium in the German capital this evening.
Her prospects are good. The 26-year-old was very impressive in her heat on Friday morning, cruising through to this evening’s final in second place, and looks to be peaking at just the right time.
“I’ve done the work and I’m ready to go,” said Mageean. “The racing is the easy part. Once I step out onto the track and the gun goes that’s where I feel most comfortable.”
The overwhelming gold medal favourite is Britain’s Laura Muir, but the silver and bronze is there for the taking. Her most likely challengers for a podium place are Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui, who looked superb in winning her heat two days ago, and Britain’s Laura Weightman. Mageean will need to draw on her experience from that memorable medal winning day in Amsterdam to overcome them.
“Knowing that I’ve won a medal before and that I’ve dealt with all the nerves and came out on top really helps. Dealing with the little voices in your head before the race is the toughest part, so I definitely take confidence from the championships I’ve been at before.
“We have such a young team here with so many newcomers on the senior panel that it makes me feel old. It also makes me realise how much experience I have at championships. So it’s time to draw on all of that in the final.”
Mageean has struggled to make an impact at major championships since her success in Amsterdam. She was eliminated in the semi-finals at the Rio Olympics, dropped out during the final of the European Indoors, and didn’t make it past the heats of the World Championships in London last year.
“I had a bad season last year. I think most people forget that athletes aren’t robots. To constantly improve year after year is difficult. Everybody has a little lull and I’m not taking that as a dent in me as an athlete.
“Everybody tells me that class is permanent, so I’m going to go out there and show the class that I have. I’m from Portaferry and grew up playing camogie. I’m tough.”
After last season’s disappointment, Mageean split with coach and close friend Jerry Kiernan last December, opting to move to Manchester to join a professional group of middle-distance athletes, Team New Balance, and is now coached by Steve Vernon. The UCD athlete is already seeing the fruits of the change in setup.
“I’ve put a hell of a lot of training in over this year and that’s going to stand to me. I’ve done a lot of strength work. Speed is easy once you’re strong enough to be able to utilise it at the end. Becoming strong as an athlete is the main thing.”
Making the podium is no easy task. Ireland have claimed just 15 medals in the 84-year-old history of the European Championships. However, Mageean will take great encouragement from Thomas Barr’s brilliant bronze medal run in the 400m hurdles on Thursday night.
“Tom is an absolutely brilliant man to have on the team. He really lifts the mood of the camp no matter what he does. That medal was well deserved. I can take confidence after seeing his run. We are good enough to compete with the best. He really has given us such a big boost.”