CIARAN Ó LIONÁIRD flew to Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday to continue his build-up to next year’s Olympic Games under legendary marathon runner Alberto Salazar, who heads up the Nike Oregon Project.
The Leevale man achieved the Olympic A standard for 1,500m with a 3:34.46 run in Oordegem in July — the fourth fastest time ever by an Irishman — and he underscored his potential by battling his way through to the 1,500m final at the world championships in Daegu.
It was between races in Daegu that he met the three-time New York marathon winner who convinced him that Portland was the place to be.
If he needed further convincing it came in the form of gold and silver medals for Mo Farah in the 5,000m and 10,000m, respectively, at the world championships.
Early this year Farah, the European 5,000m and 10,000m champion, moved with his family to Portland to improve his London 2012 prospects. There he linked up with Beijing Olympian, Galen Rupp, who became only the second non-African runner to break the 27-minute barrier when he set the American 10,000m record at 26:48.00 under Salazar’s tutelage.
Ciaran Ó Lionáird insisted yesterday — between flight connections — he was looking forward to joining this elite group of gifted athletes.
“I’m looking forward to it — it’s an exciting challenge,” he said, admitting it was not an easy decision for him. It’s an opportunity and it’s something I can’t turn down going into Olympic year. I’m really excited about it and hopefully it’s the move that takes me from 10th in the world to being a medallist.
“I am joining a small and exciting group of athletes training under Alberto Salazar and his assistant coach, Steve Magness. Apart from Mo Farah and Galen Rupp we have Dathan Ritzenhein who held the American record for 5,000m at 12:56.27 before it was broken by Bernard Lagat.
“It is a small group on the men’s side but a very strong group and one that can help me develop my strength which is crucial for the 1,500m and 5k.”
A former winner of an Irish Examiner Junior Sports Star Award, Ó Lionáird was fourth in the 1,500m (3:59.00) at the world youth championships in Marrakech back in 2005. He has pb’s of 3:57.99 for the mile, 7:50.71 for 3,000m, 13:33.64 for 5,000m and 28:32.30 for 10,000m — all achieved in the past year — and he had been hammering 3:40 for 1,500m for months before his 3:34.46 breakthrough in Belgium which launched him into world class orbit.
And he could not have chosen a better coach than Alberto Salazar. After winning the New York marathon in 1980, 1981 and 1982, the Cuban-born American went to the Los Angeles Olympics as a big favourite but, on a night when John Treacy took the silver medal, he finished down the field. He ran the New York marathon again in 2006, at age 48, as a pacemaker for Tour de France Legend, Lance Armstrong.
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