Ciara Mageean still coming to terms with a difficult Olympic year

Injury before the Games and death of coach Jerry Kiernan were two crushing blows

Ciara Mageean at the launch of this year’s Goal Mile, to help communities suffering from the impact of crises, poverty and climate change. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Ciara Mageean at the launch of this year’s Goal Mile, to help communities suffering from the impact of crises, poverty and climate change. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Frustrating. Rough. Torturous. Crushing. Bitterly disappointing. As Irish sport closes out 2021 celebrating the many highs for women on the sporting stage, Ciara Mageean is choosing her words differently, reflecting on her own personal annus horribilis.

Where to begin? With the death of Jerry Kiernan in January, actually, her former coach and mentor dying suddenly aged only 67. Emotionally, that tore Mageean apart and – related or otherwise – physically she began to tear apart too, as in tearing two muscles in her left leg, the second just seven days before her Olympic 1,500m heat in Tokyo.

Despite making every effort to recover, not running for five days, Mageean was visibly short of her best that morning of Monday August 2nd. Racing in the first of three heats, she put herself to the front early on, only to drift back over the last lap, finishing 10th. Her time of 4:07.29, well short her best of 4:00.15, was well short of qualifying too. Only the top six were sure of advancing to the semi-finals.

After making the World Championship final in 2019, followed up by a record-breaking season in 2020 (the first Irish woman to crack two minutes for 800m), this was a low Mageean had never once anticipated.

‘Unfortunate’

“I was just very unfortunate to have had a season in my Olympic year where I was getting injuries,” she says. “I tore my glute (upper hip muscle) at the end of March, early April, rehabbed that and was really fit, then I was just really unfortunate to pick up that injury in my very last session going into the Olympic Games. Not only did I have the injury, I had to offload in the week immediately leading up to the Olympic Games – that really affected my performance.

“I certainly felt that luck wasn’t on my side this year for sure. Having never suffered a tear in any muscle or any connective tissue, to have so many on my left-hand side do that was frustrating.

Ciara Mageean leads the pack in the European Cross-Country Championships at Sport Ireland Campus in Blanchardstown, Dublin last Sunday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Ciara Mageean leads the pack in the European Cross-Country Championships at Sport Ireland Campus in Blanchardstown, Dublin last Sunday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

“It does shake you. I am also aware that I’m getting older as an athlete, I’ll be 30 next year, I have been putting my body through elite sport for over 10 years now. We tread a really fine line at the top of our sport, that tightrope between peak physical performance and just tipping over too far, getting injured.

“In the same respect the years in the sport I have behind me have taught me that there are good days and there are bad days, there is something to be learned from both, there’s a beauty in the journey as well and I’m really trying to embrace that as I get older in the sport.”

Left calf

The details of her pre-Olympic injury still tear her up. It was the last “tune-up” session, her second-last 300m repetition, when she felt something wasn’t right with her left calf.

“In hindsight I wish I would have stopped when I felt the slightest little thing but I thought, it’s your last session, you want to finish really good. I sat down with the medical team, they told me the best thing was to take five days off running, maybe seven days off running, leading into the Olympic Games.

“I didn’t actually say anything, I just got up and left the room. I’m not usually a rude person but I got up and walked into another room and just cried. I don’t take a week off leading into any sort of championship. I usually only take a week off at the end of the season.

“I didn’t prepare in that plan for me to get injured at the Olympics. And for my season to suddenly end, also for me to be nursing an injury. It’s taken me the last few months to process, to be honest, I’m still processing that, not being able to do my full potential at the Olympics. I will say it’s given me that bit more fuel and fire in the belly, because it is a really short cycle to the next Olympics and it’s certainly given me that edge. I’m going to have a good Olympics, I’ll be sure of it.”

For a Goal mile near you this Christmas see goalmile.org

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