Ciara Mageean off the indoor pace in Athlone

Romanian Claudia Bobocea runs a personal best of of 4:08.19 as she secures victory

There is an art and Zen to indoor running which Ciara Mageean found difficult to maintain, her anticipated 1,500m challenge upset on two fronts and so ending the hopes of a home victory at the Athlone International Indoor meeting.

It was staged as a sort of dress rehearsal for Mageean’s plans to challenge for a European Indoor title in Belgrade next month, although she was clearly off form on the night, admitting afterwards she was suffering from a head cold. Not that her challenge ever really got up and running.

Instead, Claudia Bobocea, the 24 year-old Romanian, latched onto the pacemaker, Kendra Chambers from the US, and never let up. The gap of the chasing runners was always worryingly decisive, opening to 30m at one stage, and while Mageean briefly led the chase to close, she eventually faded into fifth place.

Bobocea’s legs may have turned to butter at the finish but she duly held on for victory, running a personal best of 4:08.19. Zoe Buckman from Australia took second in 4:11.18, Britain’s Sarah McDonald and Sweden’s Linn Nilsson also passing Mageean on the run-in, as she ended up fifth in 4:12.46.


“I hate making excuses, and people hearing about a head cold and this, that and the other,” said Mageean, coughing and spluttering as she took a seat by the track. Her coach Jerry Kiernan was also nearby and reckoned she’d looked “sluggish” all the way.

“Yeah, there were a few things going on outside my control,” added Mageean, the 24-year-old UCD student who had come to Athlone thinking of nothing less than victory. “But the be all and end all is I’m disappointed with that run, and that race. It’s not where I know where I am right now, where I can be and want to be, by any stretch of the imagination, and that is disappointing.

“But that’s sport, I just have to walk away, get ready for the next one, because the big aim for me this indoor season is the European Indoors, next month.”

Worst critic

Still, had Mageean gone with the pace, things might have been closer at the finish: “I probably my own worst critic, and I knew it would going to be fast, and thought more of the girls would go with the pace. You don’t want to be the first person behind, but the rest of the field didn’t go with it, and then you’re stuck in no man’s land.

“Then you just try to hold position, close that gap yourself, but it didn’t happen. That’s running, isn’t it? Ideally, we would have been on the pace from the get go. It’s early days, my first step onto the track since the summer.”

She’s intent on being back on the track this weekend, when the Abbotstown Indoor Arena hosts the national championships, although with Belgrade just over two and a half weeks away, she’ll need to turn things around fairly quick before the trip to Serbia.

Even without an Irish victory on the night, however, the sell-out crowd in Athlone will still feel they got their money worth: now in its fourth year, and the only international indoor meeting in the country, the men’s mile was a captivating race on a few levels, Australia Ryan Gregson delivering a a still exhilarating sub-four minute mile with his 3:56.49.

The Irish challenge was hovering a little off the pace, but closed fast on the final lap, John Travers getting up for fifth in 4:02.54, with Paul Robinson taking sixth in 4:02.77. It was a welcome back to form for Robinson who has been largely sidelined with injury since finishing fourth in the European Championships in 2014.

Mark English, who was originally down to run the 600m with a view to also competing in Belgrade, is instead sidelined with a stress fracture: not good just for the rest of the indoor season but possibly his 2017 season as a whole.

Other world class athletes on the night included Australia’s Sally Pearson, the Olympic 100m hurdles champion from London 2012, who is slowing working her way back to top form after a couple of crippling injuries. The 60m hurdles was always going to be a bit short for her, and so it proved as America’s Cristina Manning took the win in 7.82, Pearson taking third in 7.92

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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