IRELAND'S world-class metric miler Ciaran O'Lionaird has made a dramatic late change of coaches just three months before the London Olympics.
The Leevale star looked to have got a dream opportunity last winter when he joined Alberto Salazar's renowned training group in Oregon, an elite stronghold where top Briton Mo Farah trains.
But the Macroom athlete is now leaving Portland and moving to another Nike-sponsored training group, the Oregon Track Club Elite, which is based just 130 miles away in Eugene.
The head coach at his new group is Mark Rowland, a former Olympic bronze medallist in steeplechase at the 1988 Olympics, who coaches top Britons Chris Thompson (a European 10,000m silver medallist) and Jemma Simpson.
"I feel like I needed a change," O'Lionaird said. "I think moving down to Eugene will be a good change for me on both a personal and a training level."
O'Lionaird was 10th in the 1500m at last year's World Championships, but underperformed badly at this year's World Indoors in March where his left Achilles tendon flared up.
He had to stop training for a period and has since resumed running, but he now faces a battle against time to regain full race fitness in time for London 2012. Rowland said yesterday that there was "time for him to get back."
"It's not an ideal time to take an athlete on," he admitted.
"But he is an Irish Olympian and he still has time to prepare if his Achilles heals."
O'Lionaird said he had "learned a ton and became a better athlete" during his time in Portland, but he said that Rowland's expertise in the middle distances and the team environment of the new group, would benefit him.
He secured his place at the Olympics after running 3:34.46 in Belgium last August, a 1500m time that put him fourth on Ireland's all-time list and one that only Ray Flynn, Marcus O'Sullivan and Frank O'Mara have bettered.
O'Lionaird, talented at underage, secured an US college scholarship, but was then beset by injuries, including two herniated discs. He came good when he switched from Michigan to Florida State and he made his breakthrough last summer when he knocked almost 14 seconds off his 1500m best.
Elsewhere, Justin Gatlin pipped Jamaica's Asafa Powell on the line to win the 100 meters in a time of 9.87 seconds at the season-opening Diamond League meeting last night.
Powell got off to the faster start, but Gatlin pulled even and got his head in front as they crossed the line. Gatlin, who won gold in the 100m at the Athens Olympics in 2004, tied Powell's world record in Doha six years ago only to see the result erased when he tested positive for excessive levels of testosterone, which led to a four-year ban.