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Irish sprinter Brian Gregan on how his Olympic dream became an unhealthy obsession

The experienced 400m sprinter missed out narrowly on reaching the 2012 and 2016 Games.

Brian Gregan (file pic).
Brian Gregan (file pic).
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

BRIAN GREGAN hasn’t given up on his Olympics dream and is targeting qualification for Tokyo 2021 but has learned a valuable lesson about not letting it become an ‘obsession’.

The experienced 400m sprinter missed out narrowly on reaching the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and admits he had an unhealthy focus on qualification in the past.

He believes it was this ultra intensity and deep focus that led to him pushing himself too hard in training in Florida in early 2016, allowing a mystery virus to attack his system and ultimately end his summer hopes.

Having also missed out in 2012 when he felt his B standard time should have been enough to gain a green light to the London Games, Gregan has had more than his fair share of Olympics difficulties.

Asked if it’s still his dream to qualify, he insisted it is and that he’s targeting Tokyo 2021 but said he’s learned to put it all in a proper context too.

“Yeah, it’s my dream, but lockdown taught me that it was actually too much of an obsession and that when you get too clued into something it can be a negative,” said Gregan, speaking at the launch of the European Week of Sport which takes place from September 23-30.

“Obviously you need to focus everything you have on that but sometimes you can become too obsessive with it and that brings stress and anxiety with it. My focus is to run as fast as I’ve ran before. I don’t have to run a personal best to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Before previous Olympic Games I’d never achieved the A standard, now I’ve gone under it six, seven or eight times so for me that’s a huge mental barrier broken so I don’t need to start a season saying, ‘I need to run faster than I’ve ever done before’. I just need to get back close to my best and that will happen. So yeah, I’ve tried to take the obsession out of it because it’s unhealthy.”

Gregan recalled being ‘wiped out’ by a mystery virus early in 2016 following a punishing training camp in the US which cost him several months of activity and ruined his Rio hopes.

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“Again, it was probably that obsession with the Olympics that cost me an Olympic spot,” he said. “I was doing absolutely everything I could possibly do to get on that team, overtraining and undereating, because with athletics you need to be pretty much as light as you can but also as powerful as you can. Unfortunately I took that a little bit too far and underate and overtrained and just completely got wiped out.

“I got away with it for a while and then bang! I woke up one day and my resting heart rate, which was normally in the low 50s, high 40s, was about 70 beats per minute, I couldn’t walk 100 metres without my heart rate going well over 130, 140 beats.

A lot of tests didn’t show anything, in and out of hospital, and eventually I came out of it, I think it was May or June time. My energy came back and I started to race and stuff like that. But I’d missed two or three months of a key time to try to train and qualify.”

Dubliner Gregan missed the weekend national championships in Santry due to injury but has learned to be mentally strong following such knockbacks.

“I’ve gone through a lot but I think the couple of injuries and stuff like that, it teaches you to be very self reliant and to have that strong mental edge,” said Gregan, who picked up injuries from road running during the lockdown. “With 400m I’m used to running on a track but obviously when it was a 2km situation during the lockdown you were running on the road, putting more impact through the body.

“I picked up a couple of injuries along the way which turned into more things. So the lockdown, half of it was great, half towards the end was kind of payback from being on different surfaces, my body just didn’t like that.

“So I had my fair share of injury troubles but it’s just things you have to deal with. I learned a lot from it and I found a lot of imbalances and things I had so I learned a lot of different ways to pick up on those imbalances and turn them into strengths for next year. Even though it was a tough year, I’ve learned a lot and I’ll use a lot of that going into Tokyo part two next year.”

** Ambassador and athlete Brian Gregan was speaking at the launch of European Week of Sport 2020, in partnership with Sport Ireland. European Week of Sport is a celebration of sport which promotes physical activity in people of all ages, background, or fitness levels. Sport Ireland are calling on you and your family to get out and #BeActive between the 23rd – 30th of September and who knows, this may be the start of a new found love for sport. See for more information.

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Paul Keane

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