Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Mageean in the running to be class act at 2012 Olympics
The coach knows they are tired now, approaching the limit of their endurance, but still he drives them on. He cajoles them into one last, lung-bursting effort, hoping to instill the belief that, although they are close to exhaustion, they can still aim higher. Still ask themselves for more.
Her constant fear is of leaving the track with the uneasy feeling that she still had more to give. At the European Cross-Country Championships in Portugal last month, she ran well and finished seventh but felt too comfortable at the finish. She hadn't emptied herself. Broken her first rule of running.
Under Christie, her progress has been relentless. He has watched her develop from the five minute-plus athlete he first saw at 13 into the sub-4:10 phenomenon who stunned the athletics' world in Canada last August, running almost six seconds quicker than she'd ever run in her life.
O'Sullivan's long-standing junior records have tumbled. And because he has deliberately kept her training schedule light, Christie is certain there is more to come before she hits the inevitable plateau.
Ask him for a defining memory, though, and he takes you back to Bydgoszcz two years previously. Mageean's first World Junior Championships. He points to a spot maybe five feet in front of him. The distance, he says, she dipped to clinch fifth place in her heat and make the final as a fastest loser.
Even before Canada she was an athlete in demand: scholarship offers pouring in from America, the UK and Ireland. She visited Villanova and Providence and spent time at Loughborough University in England, but for all the vigour with which they pursued her, she found they had little to offer her academically.
Growing up in Portaferry in the Ards peninsula, her father Chris was one of the best hurlers in Down and that was her first love. Pucking a ball around the local hurling field with her sister every day and then, when she started running, pounding lap after lonely lap around the same muddy field.
She doesn't see any of this changing her. She'll still blush when someone makes the Sonia comparison, still talk humbly of the day, when she was 14, when she was selected for a day out at the Mary Peters' Sports Academy and she didn't even know who Northern Ireland's most famous athlete was.
For now it's enough to think about the next day. The next race. This week she’s off to the Armory in New York City for a 1,500m indoor race for New Balance athletes, a chance to impress in front of her new sponsors.
Push him gently and he states his belief that she'll run 4.04 over 1,500m this year and go close to breaking the two-minute barrier over 800m.