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'My tactics were to qualify in whatever means possible': Ciara Mageean has given herself one job in Rio

With steely determination and composure, Ciara Mageean made an impressive Olympic debut in Rio.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Sinéad O’Carroll reports from the Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro

SHE SAYS SHE always gets nervous before races but there was nothing but steely determination obvious in Ciara Mageean as she walked off the Olympic Stadium track last night after qualifying for the semi-final of the women’s 1,500 metres.

“I’m happy,” she said.

“The aim was to come through and qualify to the next round which I did so job done for this evening and now to come home and get recovered.”

Mageean came over the line in second place to Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba with a time of 4:11.51 on a cool, breezy evening in Rio.

The Portaferry woman, coached by Jerry Kiernan, was not worried about what was going on ahead of her.

“My tactics were to qualify in whatever means possible. We didn’t know if it would be a fast race or a slow race or whatever the case may be. It was to cover all the moves to make sure I was in that top six.

“Obviously there are fast girls in that race and, I think, some people thought they would have to take the pace out in order to deal with that. Not everybody can handle the fast pace of the 400 at the end.”

When the pace stretched out and the Ethiopian decided to kick with about 300 metres to go, Mageean was steadfast in how she wanted to play it.

Dibaba went with 300 to go and, I thought, ‘I’m not racing you now, I’ll leave that for the next round’.
“I knew top six was an automatic qualification so there’s no point busting your guts in the first round and leaving nothing for the next two. So I said, ‘I’m not racing her down the home straight.’

“I knew that if I just held my form on that home straight, nobody was going to pass me.”

Fully composed after making her Olympic debut, the 24-year-old – who bagged a bronze medal at this year’s European Championships during a tough, physical final – is entirely focused on making it through the semis this Sunday.

That composure, motivation and ambition were evident throughout heat one – the very first race of the night session.

Sitting comfortably in fifth after the first 500m, she was cruising calmly. She knew she had the race under control.

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Ciara Mageean narrowly avoids a stumble on her way to finishing second and qualifying for a semi-final Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A slight bit of pushing and shoving in the middle of the pack in the third lap suited the physiotherapy student whose father played Chris played inter-county hurling for the Ardsmen.

“If I got stamped on, I’m not aware of it,” she said of the moment, after which she moved herself up into third.

“D’ya know what, I’ve had a few physical races this year and as I’ve been told before, ‘God gave you elbows for a reason’.

And I didn’t grow up playing camogie to be pushed around an athletics track. So I’m well able for it.

Mageean was the only Irish athlete on the track during the evening session (with Mark English having qualified in the 800 metres earlier that morning).

On what was a good Friday for Team Ireland, the Down woman said she all the athletes had been inspired by the silver medal exploits of Gary and Paul O’Donovan in Lagoa.

“It’s such inspiration sitting in the team room today with everybody around us watching them come across and winning an Olympic silver medal.

I went to school with Paul – he was in my physio class this year. I’m just over the moon for the boys.

“Not only has it given the whole of our country and the Irish over here a lift, it’s given their whole sport a lift.”

For now though, her whole presence in Rio is down to one thing – being on that start line on Tuesday, 16 August so she can be in the mix for a medal of her own.

Ciara races again on Sunday at 5.30pm Irish time. The top five (of 12) will automatically qualify, along with the two fastest losers from the entire field. 

More from The42.ie team in Rio: 

Ireland come up just short in must-win battle against Argentina

Divine intervention? Sports fans need more than Jesus to explain incredible results on the track

No shortage of craic in the O’Donovans’ medal-winning press conference

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