Battling big odds to make start line
A persistent Achilles injury had put Ciarán O’Lionáird’s Olympic dream in jeopardy. He tells IAN O’RIORDANwhy it was worth fighting forMUSICIANS MIGHT feel cursed by the second album syndrome, and for Ciarán O’Lionáird last year’s glorious summer debut was always going to be a hard act to follow. It doesn’t help when you’re young, ambitious and a little rock’n’roll.
If the Olympics didn’t come round only once every four years he’d be nowhere near London right now, probably hiding out instead, maybe even in the Catskills. He’s accepted that it’s not going to be the performance that he’d planned on, but he’s won the ticket, and O’Lionáird is determined to enjoy the ride.
It’s not even a year yet since, with one single run, he improved his 1,500 metres best by nearly eight seconds to 3:34.46, moved to fourth on the Irish all-time list, qualified for the World Championships in Daegu, and the London Olympics.
For those who thought it was a fluke – and plenty of people did – O’Lionáird went on to make the final in Daegu and finish 10th, the best ever placing by an Irish athlete in the event, and better still looked entirely comfortable in such world-class company.
Onwards and upwards for 2012, or so he thought: this evening, in Santry, O’Lionáird will have only his second race of the summer, in the Morton Mile, and his 1,500 metres best so far this year is 3:50.12, probably one of the slowest times he’s run since his schoolboy days in Macroom.
It’s no secret or mystery as to what’s gone wrong, but simply a chronic inflammation of his left Achilles tendon – which first came on during the indoor season, soon crippled his ability to train, and very nearly pulled the curtain down on 2012 before it ever really began. A lesser man would almost certainly have limped away, but O’Lionáird, perhaps stubbornly, ran on, and for that Irish distance running has a lot to be thankful for.
At 24, O’Lionáird may only be coming into his prime, but he’s embraced the sport with levels of openness and enthusiasm that quickly set him apart – at least on the social networks. Though his daily tweets and extensive Facebook blogs it’s been access all areas, and usually fascinating, occasionally daunting, and, as his appearance in the London Calling documentary series also proved, always entertaining.
For the past week he’s been based in London, in Teddington, having finally got through his first outdoor race of the summer at last week’s Cork City Sports. He finished fifth in the mile, clocking 3:58.84, which removed at least some of the physical and mental doubts going into the Olympics.
“People are saying to me now, ‘you’re healthy, it must be great to be healthy’, and I kind of laugh, because healthy really is a relative term,” he says, and by that O’Lionáird means that he’s still considerably restricted when it comes to doing the proper speed work necessary for an Olympic 1,500 metres.
It won’t help that this year, like every Olympic year, has seen the 1,500 metres move into a higher gear: in 2011, no man broke 3:30, and so far this year three men have, the best of which is the 3:28.88 that reigning Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop ran in Monaco just last Friday night.