Brian Gregan had been flagged as a potential star ever since his early teens, but the Dubliner became the forgotten man of Irish athletics in recent years after a series of interruptions. However, he roared back to life at the Morton Games in Santry this month, smashing his 400m personal best to win in 45.26. Ahead of his tilt at the World Championships in London, he will compete at the Irish Senior Championships in Santry this weekend
Q: Back in 2013 you had one of your best seasons, but you decided to change coach and eventually move abroad. Why was that?
A: I was coached by John Shields at the time and had a good season, but I felt I was getting a bit stale and needed to try something different so I moved to Johnny Coghlan. I had a decent season in 2014 but was training by myself and banging my head against the wall with some of the stuff we were doing, so I moved to London to train with Chris Zah’s group. I definitely don’t regret those decisions. I wanted to see if I could go from being a 45.5 guy to sub-45 and was looking at what David Gillick had done to make that jump.
Q: It didn’t work out in the end. Why was that?
A: I moved there mainly for the training group because there were four guys running 45 seconds for 400m and that was my ethos: get people to push you. But I didn’t really enjoy it. I didn’t have the medical support there so when I got a niggle it would keep me out for a week. If the running went well I could have done it but I wasn’t enjoying it and that fed into my performances.
Q: And so you returned to the coach who knew you best: John Shields.
A: Yeah. Chris Zah was great and really looked after me, but I just wasn’t happy in London. At the end of January 2015 I asked John if he would take me back, but I struggled for many months after coming home. I wasn’t moving well and was unable to re-adjust, but he was patient. The best coaches have this deeper connection with an athlete and I have that with John. He’s more a mentor than a coach. We both set the programme and bounce ideas off each other. He really educated himself when I went away and he grew massively as a coach.
Q: What went wrong in 2016?
A: In April, I picked up a bug while training in Florida and I was just wiped – couldn’t do anything. My resting heart rate was 70 beats per minute and normally it’s low 40s. I’d do easy strides and my heart rate would be 180, but the problem was I kept trying to do something. In Olympic year you’re not going to take a month off before you start racing but that just made me worse. Eventually I took two weeks off, but then I picked up gastroenteritis and was in hospital, really unwell. I started racing a few weeks later when I got better, but it was more like plodding around the track, running 47.5.
Q: Having missed out on the Olympics in 2012 [Gregan ran a B-standard of 45.61, but the Olympic Council of Ireland only accepted A-standards] how hard was it to watch Rio from home?
A: It was a bitter pill to swallow because I really thought I was going to be there. It was shit watching it. You want to be there and I was good enough to be there. Not making London when the OCI took it away from me was tough, but this one hurt the most.
Q: Moving forward to 2017, what led to your breakthrough?
A: In the autumn I sat down with John and we decided I needed something new to motivate myself so I decided to dabble with the 400m hurdles. Ten years running just 400s would drive you mad and it was a different stimulus. My winter went phenomenally because of it; I was looking forward to training. In the end the move never materialised because I hurt my foot hurdling but it gave me renewed motivation to train. Things went really, really well.
Q: This weekend in Santry, and looking further ahead to London, what would you be satisfied with?
A: This weekend I’m just doing what I have to do. I’ve done some big sessions in the last week but I’m saving it for London. I’m not thinking so much about places there because right now the 400m is insane and all you can do is your best. I believe 100 percent I can make a semi-final, but a PB would be the main aim.
Q: Over the past four years, in those difficult times, were there moments you thought this just wasn’t going to happen?
A: Yeah, because it erodes your confidence when you’re not running well. The people who know and care about you will always be there, but outside of that you get totally forgotten. In a way that motivates you to get back but it also makes you realise no one really cares.
Q: In contrast, you must have had lots of messages since that run at the Morton Games?
A: My phone was blowing up that night, message after message, phone call after phone call. When I was running shit my phone was dead, and you remember the people who message you at those moments because it makes a big difference. When I was younger athletes like Joanne Cuddihy and Derval O’Rourke were very good to me.
Q: And your parents: how big a role have they played?
A: I’m living at home at the moment and don’t particularly want to be, at 27, but I can’t afford to move out. My funding for the year is €10,000, which is the same as the dole, and when you’re flying to Switzerland to race and paying €10 for a coffee it adds up. Financially and emotionally, my parents have always been there for me. I’ve driven them mad over the last few years because they’ve been through it all with me, but when to see the smile on their faces when I ran that PB at Morton Games was massive.
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