Ciara Mageean apologises but Irish athletics has more problems

The 1,500m runner was the great medal hope in Belgrade but withdrew during the final

The problem with one athlete carrying the medal hopes of a nation is that if it's not delivered then everyone feels let down. The problem for Ciara Mageean is that she allowed herself to see it that way too.

After dropping out of her European Indoor 1,500m final in Belgrade on Saturday, Mageean found herself apologising for her performance, and it shouldn't have been that way: her recent illness, coupled with a mid-race injury, meant she was clearly below par, and at the age of 24 she will clearly fight another day.

The bigger worry is why a team of 10 athletes produced the worst Irish performance at the European Indoors in 21 years, the first time since Stockholm in 1996 there wasn’t a single top-eight finish. That’s hardly all Mageean’s fault.

The fact Athletics Ireland currently finds itself without a high-performance manager, or any of the discipline-specific coaches for so long promised, is probably where more of that fault lies.

Mageean certainly hadn't come to Belgrade with any thoughts of dropping out. She did come still nursing a head cold and that clearly took its toll: as Britain's Laura Muir produced a virtual gun-to-tape victory to win in a championship record 4:02.40, Mageean was cut adrift even before halfway, visibly off her best.

She then stepped off the track with just under two laps, or 400 metres, dropping her hands onto her knees, and cut a disconsolate figure as Muir simply romped on to victory.

“I honestly don’t know what happened,” she said, suggesting a mid-race pain in her Achilles tendon was the primary fear. “I felt comfortable enough. But going around there, I felt I was losing power in my right Achilles, and I just wanted to get off.

“But sometimes uncomfortable. Training has been going well, but something is up. I normally have a pretty good pain threshold. I didn’t just want to make up the numbers, but it’s very frustrating, I hope this won’t set me back. I can’t think of too many positives right now. I’m just sorry for that performance there.”

Burning pace

The burning pace didn't help – her coach Jerry Kiernan had indicated beforehand that a slower pace would be preferred – but in many ways the writing was on the wall. The 24-year-old just about scrapped into the final on Friday evening, finishing fourth in her heat, going through as the third and last fastest loser.

Muir, however, looked unstoppable, tearing to the front with just over 400m run and never looking pack: the feisty Scot then completed a 1,500-3,000m double on Sunday afternoon, clocking another brilliant championship record of 8.35.67, destroying the Kenyan-born Turk Yasemin Can, who had won the European Cross Country so convincingly last December.

Silver medal went to the 20-year-old German Konstanze Klosterhalfen who ran a lifetime best of 4:04:45, with bronze going to Poland's Sofia Ennaoni in 4:06.39, both those times incidentally notably faster than Mageean's best of 4:08.66.

It’s back to the drawing board for Mageean, who was always using the indoor season as a natural stepping stone to the World Championships in London this August.

Also on Saturday night, John Travers trailed home in 11th place in the men's 1500m final in 3:53.11. Poland's Marcin Lewandowski won that race in 3:44.82 to follow up on the gold in the 800m he won in Prague in 2015 where Mark English won silver.

“Unfortunately I didn’t put in the performance I wanted to put in,” said Travers.

Ciara Neville and Phil Healy were both automatic qualifiers from the women's 60m heats, before exiting in Sunday's semi-finals.

The 17-year-old Neville clocked 7.46 to finish fourth in her 60m heat, before running 7.49 in her semi-final. Healy was equally delighted with her automatic qualification in her heat in 7.39, but again her 7.40 in the semi-final was not enough to progress.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics