By Will Downing
Ciara Mageean qualified comfortably for Sunday night’s semi-finals of the women’s 1500 metres by finishing second in her heat – but very few were present at the Engenhão Olympic Stadium to watch.
A crowd of approximately 10,000 were in their seats for the start of Mageean’s race, the first evening race of the Rio Games.
Though the bottom tier had begun to fill up within an hour, bringing the attendance towards 20,000 – it was still well down on the 80,000 full houses witnessed during London 2012 and the evening sessions four years earlier in Beijing.
None of this was any concern to the European 1500m bronze medallist, who took second place behind reigning world champion Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia.
Mageean held sixth place in the bunch with two laps to go – the top six automatically qualifying – but then produced a couple of her customary surges to move up, the first on the inside, the second coming on the outside in the final lap.
By the last turn, Mageean was behind Dibaba but well beyond the rest of the field, as she breezed into the semis with no undue pressure.
Dibaba’s winning time of 4:10.61 was almost 15 seconds off her year’s best, with Mageean just behind on 4:11.51.
Brenda Martinez of the United States was third, with European champion Angelika Cichocka of Poland back in fifth, but also through.
Mageean said afterwards: “Feeling good. Job done for the first round. Nothing’s ever completely comfortable but I felt well within my limits and looking forward to the next one.
“Definitely went according to plan. My aim was to qualify and I’ve qualified, so that’s that done.
“Pace was grand. It was pacey enough come the middle but that’s what we race for.
“I finished second and the top six qualified. Can’t complain about that.
"There were fast girls in that race and I'm happy to come through and qualify - job done. Dibaba went with 300m to go and I thought, 'I am not racing you now. No point busting a gut for qualifiers'.
"I knew, if I held my form, nobody was going to pass me. I have had a few physical races this season but God gave you elbows for a reason."
Mageean has been one of the poster athletes for Ireland across the board going into these Games following her European Championships glory in Amsterdam last month – but for her, nothing has changed.
“Life since the European bronze has been pretty much just normal life.
“I haven’t really had time to celebrate that because this race was here on the cards so it’ll be after the summer that I’ll be able to take it all in.
“I noticed a few Irish flags and that’s all that matters to me. I think somebody said there wasn’t a great crowd.
“I don’t care about that. I’m here to look at the track, not at the crowds.”
The other heats were won by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands – who pipped Mageean for the silver medal in Amsterdam – and Dawit Seyaum of Ethiopia, both in faster times than that opening heat.
The semi-finals take place Sunday night at 12:30am Irish time (into Monday morning).