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'Ciara is just extremely resilient. She is a pro, a complete and utter professional'

There’s no doubt that Ciara Mageean will come back stronger from her latest setback in Tokyo.

ciara-mageean-dejected Ciara Mageean dejected after her 1500m heat at Tokyo 2020. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

UPS AND DOWNS, highs and lows, good days and bad ones. Ciara Mageean has experienced it all through her whirlwind journey to the world’s biggest stages.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games brought familiar woe and disappointment for the 1500m star, as she missed out on qualification from the heats.

Having been widely backed to reach the final, Mageean finished 10th in a time of 4:07.29, having looked uncomfortable on the final lap. She later revealed that she sustained a calf injury in training just days before the race.

It was the latest reminder that both on the track and away from it, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for the Down woman.

While she’s enjoyed plenty of days in the sun, there have also been many dark ones as injuries and loss of form have hampered her progress at times.

After a simply sublime 2020, in which Mageean broke three national records and cemented her status as one of the finest middle distance runners in the world, 2021 began on a heartbreaking note.

The passing of Jerry Kiernan, her former coach, hit her hard. “He was more than just a coach to me,” as a tearful Mageean told RTÉ Drivetime the day the sad news broke.

“He was a friend and a mentor and, to be honest, he was like a father figure to me.”

In March, she withdrew from the European Indoor Athletics Championships “due to a few setbacks”.

With Kiernan’s legacy on her mind — and lasting footprints on her heart — and under the watchful eye of current coach Steve Vernon, the 29-year-old has shown remarkable mental strength and maturity beyond her years to bounce back time and time again.

There’s no doubt that she’ll do so again after her second Olympic Games, noting in a brilliant Facebook post that she is “determined to return and fight again”.

2016 Olympian and marathon extraordinaire Lizzie Lee’s words earlier this summer ring through in the aftermath.

“She is resilient,” as Lee said at the time. “Ciara is just extremely resilient. I have seen both sides of Ciara. I have seen the happy Ciara after races and I have seen the sad and down in the dumps Ciara, and both times she will just say how grateful she is to represent her country.

“When she doesn’t run well it goes to her core. Her whole being is trying to do her best for her mammy, mammy Mageean… and for everybody.”

The pair roomed together in Rio, where Mageean’s maiden Games also ultimately ended in gut-wrenching disappointment. The Portaferry native finished 11th in her semi-final in a time of 4:08.07, nearly seven seconds outside her season’s best at the time.

“I was the actual mammy in Rio in the apartment but she really was,” 40-year-old Lee laughed. “I arrived with chocolate biscuits one day and I was told swiftly where to put my chocolate biscuits.

“She is a pro, a complete and utter professional,” she continued at the time. “If you follow her on Instagram she is dotting the ‘I’s and crossing the ‘T’s. I personally think there is an Olympic final in her this summer. She has stepped up that level.

“She has been kicked back again with Achilles surgery and the whole lot and she believed. It’s the determination that she completely believes that she can do it and deserves to be in an Olympic final.

“I tell her she’s my hero about 15 times when we’re sitting down for a cup of tea. I’m like, ‘You’re just my hero.’ She laughs, and I’m like, ‘No, really, you’re my hero!’ It’s funny because I’m so much older than her, but she is wise beyond her years. She’s a pro.”

Mageean came into Monday’s 1500m heats at Olympic Stadium on a high, after clocking a season’s best of 4:02.48 in Monaco last month. Having only ever covered the distance faster on three previous occasions, her PB is 4:00.15.

There’s no doubt her resilience will come to the fore again as she bounces back from this setback stronger, bidding to break the four-minute mark as she chases Sonia O’Sullivan’s national record of 3:58.85 — she smashed her 1,000m one last summer and also became the first Irishwoman to break the two-minute mark over 800m.

Regardless of this week’s result, Mageaan is a true model who has inspired — and will continue to inspire — so many across the length and breadth of the country.

Indeed, Lee calls her her hero, and she has that same impact on young girls — and boys — as is seen every time she races on these shores.

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ciara-mageean Mageean always has time for young fans. Source: Inpho.

“She’s also humble and she’s kind,” Lee smiled. “Have you ever watched Ciara after a local track race or a Nationals or anything? She will stand there, probably freezing, signing things. Someone usually drapes a hoodie over her, or whatever.

“She knows that she’s inspiring the next generation of kids. She knows that autograph and that little girl going home and saying, ‘Mam, can we got to track on Tuesday night’ [means so much].

“I know she feels like she has a duty of care to the next generation. Because if you talk to her about it, that’s the way that she’ll talk to you. She’s so articulate, but she’s so driven and determined.

“She’s also craic, though. I’m making it sound like she’s the most serious person in Ireland! She’s great fun to have at a meet, she’s so warm and kind but she is so focused and talented.

“She sometimes doesn’t realise how talented she is because she works so hard. You’re like, ‘God, you have talent coming out your ears.’”

As the old-age quote goes, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ Mageean has both, and will continue to master the balance with everything in between.

“She also has the racing brain,” Lee concluded. “I personally don’t think you can teach that. Tom Barr has that as well. You cannot teach that — and the ability, what Ciara does and it’s quite Derval-esque, is to flip it on for the big ones.

“At championships, that’s where she’s going to deliver and that’s where she always delivers… that’s a true competitor. That’s somebody that you just want to watch run in all these championships.

“My daughters shout for Ciara, they know when Ciara is running because I’m up to ninety! I can barely cope with watching it. I’m like, ‘No, no, no!’ Yeah, I’m a huge Ciara fan.”

One of many, with more joining the club by the week.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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