Medal chasing Mageean remains at ease with missing World Championships

Mageean opted against competing in Oregon to focus her efforts on last week’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and next week’s Europeans in Munich
Medal chasing Mageean remains at ease with missing World Championships

AT HER EASE: Scotland's Laura Muir (right) and Northern Ireland's Ciara Mageean (centre) during the Women's 1500m Round 1 Heat 1 at Alexander Stadium. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

It was one of the toughest decisions of Ciara Mageean’s career. In 2019 she’d made the world 1500m final in Doha, so it made perfect sense for her to target last month’s World Championships in Oregon – the biggest event of the athletics year.

But last autumn, when she and then-coach Steve Vernon sat down to plot out this summer, she chose not to go. There was method in what seemed, to some, like madness. After all, Mageean had two other championships coming right after, with last week’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and next week’s Europeans in Munich offering gilt-edged medal opportunities, the kind that looked out of reach in Oregon.

Vernon asked her what was most important to her this summer. “To bring medals home,” she said, and with that the decision was made, Mageean watching from her altitude training base in St Moritz, Switzerland, as the world’s best went at it in Oregon.

“It obviously was disappointing as I felt I was in a place to be another world finalist,” she says. “I’m sure my agent, Ricky Simms, would have preferred if I entered Worlds as opposed to Commonwealth Games because it has an awful lot more weight if he’s trying to get me into some of the top Diamond Leagues. But it was important for me to represent Northern Ireland at Commonwealths and try to win a medal there. If World Champs were a bit closer, I’d have been tempted to do all three, but with the travel I thought it best to focus on the two.” 

Her approach paid off in Birmingham last Sunday, Mageean winning silver in the Commonwealth Games 1500m final in 4:04.14, having boldly gone with the surge of gold medallist Laura Muir of Britain with just over a lap to run. Muir had won Olympic silver last year, world bronze last month, so to get close to her was a step forward for Mageean, who came home well clear of three other world finalists. It left her with few regrets about bypassing the event, particularly given Mageean caught Covid-19 in June, which had cost her two weeks of training.

“Because of that I wouldn’t have been in as good a shape in Eugene as I’d hoped to be, whereas that month of training before the Commonwealth Games got me into the shape I’m in now. It’s always hard to turn down a World Champs and the opportunity to have the Irish vest on my back but I feel I made the best decision for me, performance-wise.” 

Covid forced her to take 10 days off running and also affected her in other ways, with Mageean experiencing three periods in the space of a month. “After my previous vaccine booster, the same thing happened so it just shows how much that virus does to your body that it is affecting all the systems. You have to give your body the respect it deserves, and allow it rest.” Ahead of the Europeans, Mageean is ranked 13th in the 1500m based on season’s bests, but that’s misleading given her time of 4:04.14 was run off a slow pace in that Commonwealth final. While Muir is the overwhelming favourite, Mageean is relishing the chance to take her on again.

“I like to give athletes the respect they deserve and Laura is a fantastic, fantastic athlete. But I do believe nobody is unbeatable.” 

Before that Commonwealth final, she sat down with current coach Helen Clitheroe to talk tactics, and Mageean’s mentality was simple. “I want to aim for gold,” she said. “I felt that I really put my cards out there, I really gave myself the best shot at doing that.” 

Mageean has been working with Clitheroe in a full-time capacity since April, following the departure from Team New Balance Manchester of long-time coach Steve Vernon, who took up a role at UK Athletics. For Mageean, the transition between coaches has been seamless, with Clitheroe keeping things much the same and Vernon, who’s “always a friend”, available to chat as needed. Clitheroe had a career similar to Mageean’s, the Briton winning Commonwealth and European medals and making world finals at 1500m and 5000m.

“She’s done a fantastic job settling in, giving us peace of mind that we will continue to perform excellently,” says Mageean. “She’s somebody I look up to, having raced her at the start of my career. I never anticipated having her as my coach so I’m very privileged.” 

Mageean’s opening round of the 1500m is next Tuesday, with the final Friday, while she’s also entered for the 800m. While she will decide on that in the days ahead, it looks highly unlikely she will double, with the first rounds of the 800m (on Wednesday and Thursday) preceding the 1500m final.

Mageean won 1500m bronze at the Europeans in 2016 but was edged into fourth at the last edition in 2018. She knows the podium places will again be hard fought, but she feels ready to roll.

“I'm exactly where I want to be coming into these championships, I think I'm in the best shape I've ever been in. I’m certainly going in here with the aim of a medal. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t. I want to see the tricolour fly.” 

In Tokyo last year, Mageean had an off-colour run after tearing her calf on the build-up while at other championships she’s sometimes struggled to keep her nerves in check, though she works closely with sports psychologist Kate Kirby to harness such things to her advantage.

“I still find nerves very, very tough and it’s the thing I’ll miss the least about athletics when I hang up the spikes. The secret for me is to remember it’s a good thing. Steve always said, ‘you’re adrenalised, you’re not nervous,’ so I always try to remember that. It comes down to reminding myself when I’m on that line: there’s no place in the world I’d rather be. As long as I walk off the track having given my all, laid everything bare, then that’s all I can do.”

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