Mageean can continue upward spiral and reach final - Kiernan
Published 12/08/2016 | 02:30
She keeps hearing the same advice, but it rings just as hollow every time. Enjoy it, they say. Soak it all up.
Ciara Mageean thanks them for the sentiment, well intended as it is, but knows deep down that you can't just choose to enjoy something. One thing, and one thing only, will govern her feelings about these Games: her performance.
The 24-year-old will make her Olympic debut in the heats of the women's 1500m at 12.30am tonight, the first of a possible three races which could culminate in Monday night's final.
Then, and only then, might the Portaferry, Co Down, native look around and appreciate just how far she's come. "Once the business is done," says Mageean, "then I can go have fun."
Drawn alongside world record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, European champion Angelika Cichocka and formidable American Brenda Martinez, qualification for Sunday's semi-final is not a given, though it looks realistic if Mageean runs to form.
Of the 13 competitors she faces in tonight's qualifying round, nine have faster personal bests, but that's not to say Mageean will be outclassed.
After all, her approach this year has been focused on places, not times, something made clear at the European Championships in Amsterdam last month where Mageean showed an impressive range of gears on the final lap to take home a bronze medal in the 1500m.
Since then, it's all been about keeping distractions to a minimum, easier said than done when spare time was becoming a precious commodity in the Rio build-up.
"I was back down to earth fairly quickly after Amsterdam and back into training," says Mageean. "I tried to keep as much of a low profile as I could and get ready for this. Training has been good and everything has tipped over nicely."
At her first Olympics, the very real and obvious danger is to allow the sense of occasion spin her head into a daze, to let the crowds and the village and the hundreds of messages flowing through put her energy reserves in the red zone before she even makes the start line.
It's for this reason that Mageean has taken time out from social media since Monday and is homing in on tonight's race with a singular focus.
"I'll treat each race as a final, every race like it's my last race at the Games," she explains. "Most people think you'll just go straight there and do it, but to make the final of an Olympic Games is a big task.
"I'll give it my all to get there and I hope to walk off the track happy. That's all I can hope for."
A little over a fortnight ago, Mageean was dropped to the airport by her coach Jerry Kiernan, the Kerryman who has guided her for the past three years at his Dublin base and built on the good work done for several years before by Eamonn Christie.
From what he's seen since Amsterdam, Kiernan is convinced that his protégée has come to Rio in the form of her life.
"She has improved from the Europeans, so I just hope there's an extra five metres in her," says the man who finished ninth in the marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. "I think an Olympic final is realistic. She's ready to go."