Thursday 14 December 2017

Mageean eager to shine as Heffernan leads medal hopes

Thomas Barr surveys the London Stadium yesterday ahead of the World Athletics Championships, which starts today. Photo: Sportsfile
Thomas Barr surveys the London Stadium yesterday ahead of the World Athletics Championships, which starts today. Photo: Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Shortly after walking off the track at the Rio Olympics last year, distraught after an 11th-place finish in her 1500m semi-final, Ciara Mageean issued an apology to all those watching back home.

"I'm very sorry for not doing what I wanted to do, what my coach wanted me to do and what everybody in Ireland wanted me to do," she said.

It was quickly followed by an assurance that she would return in 2017 as a better version of herself.

"I promise I'll be back stronger, faster and better," she said. "Hopefully after this season I can post a lot more fast times and show the world that Ciara Mageean deserves to be racing the best."

The 25-year-old has been true to her word, clocking the second fastest time of her career at the Rome Diamond League in June, 4:04.49, then going even quicker in a mile race in London last month, where she passed the 1500m mark in 4:03.59.

controversial

That makes her the fifth fastest in her heat of tonight's 1500m, though with only the top six to advance automatically, a place in tomorrow's semi-final is far from guaranteed.

One of those slower than Mageean this year - but likely to be faster tonight - is Caster Semenya, the controversial South African understood to have hyperandrogenism, the condition of excessive male sex hormones in the female body.

Semenya has been drawn alongside Mageean, and though the South African is better known as an 800m specialist, she has been so unbeatable in that realm that she now feels the 1500m title is within reach.

It will be the first time Mageean has raced Semenya since the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2008, though she will have more important things to ponder tonight than the biological make-up of her rivals. After a strong season, she's striking a confident tone.

"I've really been coming from strength to strength," she said. "This is the best season's racing I've had in a long time so I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do."

Booking a place in Monday night's 12-woman final will prove a huge ask, however, one which will take either a huge slice of luck or the performance of her life - possibly both.

Tomorrow morning Brian Gregan gets his championships under way in the 400m heats, but it will take a run close to or better than his personal best of 45.26 to advance. The 27-year-old Dubliner has been in outstanding form.

Mark English will follow him into action tomorrow afternoon in the 800m heats, but the Donegal man has endured a difficult preparation. If he can navigate his way to a semi-final, as he did last year in Rio, it should be considered a success.

Thomas Barr will settle into the blocks for the 400m hurdles heats on Sunday morning, and the 25-year-old will have to bring his A-game if he is to advance. His 2017 best of 48.95 ranks him 26th in the world this year, though if he can somehow conjure up a sub-48 clocking as he did in Rio, he will fear no one.

Elsewhere, as has so often been the case at major championships, any genuine medal chance will come in the race walks. Rob Heffernan, Brendan Boyce and Alex Wright have remained in Cork this week, putting the finishing touches on preparations at a training camp in Fota Island, and of those Heffernan looks the only one likely to breach the top-10.

The 39-year-old finished fifth at this event in Beijing two years ago and sixth in Rio last year, and while he readily admits his best days are behind him, he'll undoubtedly throw himself into the hunt for a medal on Sunday week. The odds say it'll prove beyond him, but he's made a career out of defying them.

Irish in action

Today: Ciara Mageean, women's 1500m heats, 7:35pm

Tomorrow: Brian Gregan, men's 400m heats, 10:45am; Mark English, men's 800 heats, 12:45pm; Ciara Mageean*, women's 1500m semi-finals, 7:35pm

*pending qualification

  • World Championships, Live, BBC1, from 7.0pm

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