This wasn’t an easy assignment for Ciara Mageean, for reasons that run far deeper than performance alone. Either way, it was one she passed with flying colours here at the World Championships in Doha.
Less than 48 hours after renowned coach Alberto Salazar was banned for four years by the US Anti-Doping Agency, Mageean was forced to line up alongside his star athlete, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, in the 1500m heats.
Top six was the goal to book her place in today’s semi-final, and it was a target the 27-year-old never looked like missing.
She coasted in the slipstream of the leaders through the opening laps, running with an authority and confidence that was appropriate to her form this year.
Sure enough, Hassan coasted around her rivals on the final lap and took victory in a facile 4:03.88, but Mageean was only a few ticks behind, crossing the line fifth in 4:04.18. But how did it feel for Mageean to run against someone under a thick cloud of suspicion? To line up beside an athlete who is now unable to have any contact with her coach?
“Look, I came out here to run my race as Ciara Mageean, it doesn’t matter what happens left or right and what those girls are doing or aren’t doing,” she said.
“I just aim to be the best athlete I can. I know I’m a clean athlete and that’s all I concern myself with.”
Some of Mageean’s rivals weren’t so diplomatic about Salazar. “Get him out,” said Jenny Simpson of USA, the 2011 world 1500m champion. “If you cheat, you get banned and I’m a believer in lifetime bans. I wish it was longer.” Simpson spoke out against athletes who chose to join the Nike Oregon Project despite the allegations that had first come to light in 2015.
“Anybody that knows anything about this sport knows there’s a black shadow over that group and so why anyone chooses to be a part of that group, I have no idea. Anyone that is shocked is not involved in the sport. I don’t feel sorry for you if you’re closely affiliated with someone who has a four-year ban.”
Jamaican 1500m runner Aisha Praught-Leer also vented her anger in the wake of the news. “I’m out here busting my ass and trying so hard and all the clean athletes are and this is a little bit of justice,” she said. “He wasn’t out there doing this to himself. Where are the repercussions for the people who were doing this? Yesterday was a celebratory day. Justice has been served.”
Mageean is again drawn alongside Hassan in tonight’s semi-final, which goes to the line at 9pm Irish time, and while it will be a much stiffer task she believes she’s capable of a top-five finish to advance.
“I’ll get myself into a good competitive position and keep something for the last 100 because that’s where the race is won and lost,” she said. “The plan is to make that final and that’s what I’m aiming to do.” It’s been a superb season to date for the two-time European medallist, Mageean running the second fastest mile in history by an Irishwoman when clocking 4:19.03 in Monaco, going through 1500m in a PB of 4:01.21.
Since then she put in a stint of altitude training in St Moritz, Switzerland where she improved further under the guidance of coach Steve Vernon.
“I got a fantastic block of training in and to be honest, it was the most fun I’ve had doing athletics to be out there with my teammates,” she said. “My boyfriend came out to pace my workouts and keep me sane and it was absolutely fantastic. I feel like I’m in PB shape. Who knows if that will come out in a championship but I’m really excited to see.”
If Mageean is unable to finish in the top five she could also advance with one of the two non-automatic qualifying spots, which would make her the first Irish middle distance runner in eight years to reach a world final.
Elsewhere last night Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith stormed to her first world title in the women’s 200m, the 100m silver medallist clocking 21.88.