Gold for Ciara

July 23, 2009

By Ray McMenamin in Tampere

Mageean claimed gold in the girls’ 1500m on the track at the Ratina Stadium in Tampere.  She ran a lifetime best of 4:15.46, destroying the rest of the field and smashing the previous record set at the first edition of the European Youth Olympics.

The old record, achieved in Brussels in 1991, stood at 4:20.73 and was set by none other than Gabriella Szabo of Romania.  Szabo would go on to conquer Sonia O’Sullivan and win gold in the 5000m at the Olympic Games of 2000 in Sydney.

It was fitting then that in yesterday’s race Mageean would gain a measure of national revenge and relegate a Romanian to the silver medal spot.  That position was taken by Ioana Raluca Doaga, almost three seconds back in 4:18.44.

It is the second medal for Mageean in the space of as many weeks.  She won a silver medal in the 800m at the IAAF World Youth Championships
– Show quoted text – in Bressanone, Italy on July 12.  Immediately after the race she reflected on her achievement.  “It was a fantastic feeling crossing
that line knowing I got gold,” she said.

Mageean was not the fastest athlete going into the race.  Amela Terzic of Serbia was.  The Serb led briefly after about 1000m, but coming up to the bell Mageean made her move and Terzic had no answer. From that point on the destination of the gold medal was never in doubt. Mageean though, had words for Tersic who would go on to come third. “She ran a good tough race, she’s a brilliant runner,” she said, pausing slightly before adding “but I’m glad a got the better of her.”

The young Portaferry athlete knew that tactics would play an important part in the race.  She had her gameplan and knew what she needed to do to win the race.  When it came to it and hard questions were asked, she had the answers.  “I tried to stick in and cover every move and with a lap to go just kick it,” she said.  And how did that make her feel?  Ecstatic?  Overjoyed?  On top of the world?  Not one for overstatement, Mageean responded in typical fashion.  “It worked so I’m happy enough,” she said.

If “happy enough” describes her feelings on the day she’s crowned champion of Europe, it’s easy to see that this thoroughly likeable young athlete isn’t going to lose the run of herself any time soon.

She was a little more excitable when it came to talk about the time. But only a little.  She improved her PB and took almost five seconds off a Championship record that had stood for a generation.  Again the 17-year old wasn’t letting herself get too carried away.  “I didn’t even know the time but, yeah, I’m delighted,” she said.

Chef d’équipe of the Irish athletics team in Tampere, John McGrath, is little more exuberant when it comes to describing Mageean’s abilities. McGrath, who has soldiered in the field (or on the track!) of Irish athletics for many years has no doubts about her potential.  “She is probably the best prospect Ireland has for a medal at the 2016 Olympics,” he says.  “She is coming right at just the right time,” he adds.

He also has great praise for her attitude.  “She is so level headed which makes it better,” he said, adding “she could have gone off with her family to celebrate her medal but instead chose to stay with the team to keep the team spirit up.”

But it’s not just her level-headedness.  McGrath knows talent when he sees it.  Her style is a joy to watch.  “She’s not an athlete that ever looks like she’s pushing, she has her own pace and when she kicks they have no answer,” says McGrath.

Her coach Éamonn Christie has no doubts about her either.  “ It is a privilege to work with her.  Ciara is definitely the most talented athlete I’ve ever worked with and there is no doubt she has the potential, not just to win an Olympic medal, but and Olympic Gold medal,” he says.
He thinks she could even be ready to compete at the London Olympics in 2012, essentially four years ahead of schedule.  “Within a year she
could be running two minutes for 800m and 4:05 for 1500m, which is frightening for such a young girl,” he says.

He is realistic, though, and knows that not all talented young athletes go on to make it at senior level.  “I know next year will be a difficult year.  She will be studying for A-levels and they will dictate her future and her training routine,” he says adding “but she has great parental support and I’m hopeful she will be able to juggle the two.”

Ciara Mageean.  This morning she is, at her age-group and on this continent at least, an Olympic Gold Medalist.  It has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

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