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'Championships haven’t always gone our way. This is the result after all those disappointments'

Marcus Lawler chats University Games success, casting aside years of doubt and succeeding alongside his mother.
Jul 21st 2019, 8:01 AM 16,366 1

MARCUS LAWLER COULDN’T help remark to himself just how good the surface felt under his feet as he walked to the starting blocks of the 200m finals at this month’s University Games.

Marcus Lawler celebrates winning bronze Carlow sprinter, Marcus Lawler. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It’s a track he’d run on twice previously – an impressive performance in the heats and a conservative third-place finish in the semi-final brought him this far – but in those instances he’d never allowed himself the luxury of getting to soak in his surroundings.

He’d always been caught up by the task at hand and, up to this point, his appearances on the European stage had fallen far below his standards.

Most recently, his fifth-placed finish in the heat of last year’s European Championships stung the Carlow man.

“Not good enough, like,” Lawler told RTÉ after that disappointing display. “I set myself a realistic goal of making the final, and now I’m gone in the first round.

“I’m very disappointed with it. It’s just the performance wasn’t good enough, and that’s just it.”

The 24-year-old finds it difficult to put his finger on where it went wrong. In the week’s leading up to his run, he’d run a personal best 20.39 in the National Championships.

“I got on the plane to Berlin in brilliant form,” he tells The42. 

“I needed to be performing to a level that would have given me a season best or a personal best.

It’s on you to make sure you’re at your very best. I knew after the race my performance wasn’t good enough – it didn’t cut it at this level.

“You want to get to the championships, but you want to compete in them. No point going out and making up the numbers.

“After Berlin we worked really hard. We put in a huge amount of work.”

This again felt like a Trojan effort to the despondent Lawler. For the 12 months leading up to last year’s Championships, the former Carlow IT student was recovering from a hamstring injury which had knocked his 2017 season’s work.

Having to reflect on Berlin coming through all of that was about as painful as any muscle injury you could endure. The doubts were inescapable.

“We did everything we could, I suppose. There was questions asked after Berlin, trying to identify areas I could improve.

“We had the plan in place and it was about trusting it. We didn’t want to end up wondering were we doing the right thing. We trusted everything we did and how we trained.  I always trusted my top speed ability – a 20m snippet of 200m – I think I’d match a lot of guys in Europe. But it’s about putting it all together from 0-200m.”

Deliverance

With all of this in the back of his mind, Lawler would have been forgiven for feeling the pressure in the belly of the San Paolo Stadium.

Instead, he thought about almost everything else – including the running track under his feet. How had he not noticed before?

“I just tried to stay relaxed. It sounds contradictory because the sprint is such an intense bout. Mentally, you end up thinking a lot – whether [your technique] is coming up physically. Even if only a small bit of it is coming through, that’s enough for me.

“Trying to achieve that fluent movement; dropping the shoulders, moving the arms and keeping the knees high. If you tighten up in any way at all, which I have in the past, you end up not moving in that flowing manner.

“I don’t think it’s hard to do because I’ve practised it in every race and try to replicate that in my training. While I was pumped up for the final, it was sort of controlled aggression.

“I kept telling myself to stay relaxed and stay focused. At the end of the day , I know it’s a massive final but it was just another race at the end of the day.

“I had a quiet confidence I that once I was there I could sneak a medal.”

In the first 50 metres he’ll admit he let the race get away from him.

“I had everyone outside me, so my plan was to attack the bend  ease in to everybody. I had everyone in my sights. I reeled them in for the last 120m.”

Coming around the bend at break-neck speed, he felt himself gaining ground on Jun Yamashita and pipped the Japanese sprinter to the line to land his first ever European medal.

“I could feel myself catching him that gave me the extra per cent to drive. I sort of knew I was third, but I didn’t fully know.

The Irish crowd were shouting and cheering me on. But I wanted to wait and see it on the big screen to have the confirmation and assurance that it actually happened. I’d seen so many athletes at championships win medals before – the likes of Tom Barr and Ciara Mageann – so to have one now myself is unbelievable.”

After years of near-misses and disappointment, it was finally his day. Well, their day.

Marcus Lawler celebrates winning bronze Lawler celebrates his bronze medal success in Naples. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Alongside Lawler was his dedicated team – physio while at the Games Declan Monaghan, coach Terry Cahill, the support staff at Carlow IT and the Institute of Sport in Abbotstown – the St Laurence O’Toole clubman has been keen to share his success with those around him.

None, however, are more important to him than his long-time coach and mother, Patricia.

Having coached him since his first international meets in 2011 and helped him develop his skills in the ether of his youth, she was there to congratulate her son from the moment he stepped off the track.

“Mam even managed to sneak her way down to the mixed zone – I don’t know how she managed to get down there,” he laughs.

I can’t remember what was said but there were a lot of emotions immediately after the race. Championships haven’t always gone our way, they’ve been disappointing for the last few years. But we always had trust in each other, trust in our training plan.

“She’s been there and done it all before. 

“She’s there at the track when I’m doing my final blowout. I’ll ask here how does it look and she’ll tell me if I’m looking good or not.

“You’re not second guessing yourself in the blowout. Once she told me it looked good that’s all I needed to hear.”

Marcus Lawler celebrates winning bronze with Patricia Lawler Marcus Lawler celebrates winning bronze with mother and coach Patricia Lawler. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

From here, Lawler’s ambitions appear endless.

Success at this month’s National Championships would mean running a 20.40, a time which would put him on the plane to this year’s World Championships in Doha.

“I need to get my head back into racing because I haven’t run a step since Naples,” he admits.

A carded ‘World Class’ athlete with Sport Ireland, Lawler isn’t discounting his chances of making next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, but knows he’ll need to produce a series of top results to make the grade.

“Currently I’d be ranked highly, I think I’m inside that top 56 [who qualify]. But a lot can change in 12 months. I need more fast times and more wins if I can.”

His qualification time will be decided by an average of his top five fastest results between now and the Games. Beyond that, Lawler isn’t in a rush to draw out a “life plan” just yet.

“I’d like to go down that coaching role, but I need to be very careful. Athletics needs to take the front seat. 

“I only have a short sharp window for athletics.  That needs my full time commitment and dedication. Athletics is a sport that can’t be half done. 

If I get a full-time job or a job that’s going to hinder my athletics in any way it’s just not going to work. Athletics is going to take priority and going into next year.

“I won’t change much, but in terms of a job and career, that’s still to be discussed. I’ll probably stick with the same team, too.”

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