Ciaran O’Lionaird Still Has Olympic Hopes

Ciaran O'Lionaird, shown here winning the mile this past winter at the New Balance Indoor GP in Boston, is battling an Achilles injury heading into the London Games. Photo: PhotoRun.net

The Irish 1,500-meter runner is carrying an Achilles injury into the Games. 

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

TEDDINGTON, ENGLAND — The Olympics only come once every four years, and it is the fortunate athlete who is one hundred percent healthy in advance of the Games.  Many, like Irish miler Ciaran O’Lionaird, are keeping a nagging injury at bay while still trying to add strength, fitness and speed and keep their Olympic hopes alive.  O’Lionaird’s inflamed left Achilles isn’t fully healed, but he simply can’t waste time worrying about that now: the show must go on.

“People say to me all the time, ‘you’re healthy now, it must be great to be healthy,’” O’Lionaird told Race Results Weekly in an interview here today as he sipped a large cup of hot chocolate in a hotel cafe.  “I kind of laugh at it because healthy is really a relative term.”

When O’Lionaird, 24, who grew up on a dairy farm in County Cork, moved to the Oregon Track Club Elite under coach Mark Rowland last May, the pair knew they were racing against the clock to get him ready for the London Games.  At the time, they thought his preliminary round at the Olympic Games might be his first outdoor race of the season.  But his Games build-up has gone well enough that he was able to race in the Cork City Sports meeting last Tuesday, finishing fifth in the mile in a respectable 3:58.84, and he will run another mile in Dublin on Wednesday at the Morton Pre Games.

“We’ve built about a month of solid training on the track which has been really good for what I came from,” O’Lionaird explained.  “But at the same time, it’s not optimal.  But I’m in a lot better place than I was than when I first joined him, certainly, and probably ahead of where I thought I’d be.”

O’Lionaird said that living and training in Eugene during the USA Olympic Trials gave him a big boost.  He watched as much of the meet as he could, cheering for his teammates Nick Symmonds, Tyler Mulder, Julia Lucas, and Bridget Franek.  He started to feel his competitive juices flow again as he worked to rehabilitate his Achilles.

“All through the Trials I was extremely motivated watching my teammates compete,” O’Lionaird said.  “To see the excitement around the Trials really got me fired up again after some really, just, struggling with the sport: out, injured and really feeling the pressure of being behind.  The Trials really opened up my eyes as to why I do this.”

O’Lionaird had a breakout year in 2011, his last as an NCAA athlete for Florida State University.  After the collegiate season, he dropped his 1500m best to 3:34.46, and made the final of the IAAF World Championships, where he finished tenth.  He became the first Irishman to make a world championships final at 1500m since Niall Bruton finished 11th in Göteborg in 1995, a surprising fact given the rich history of Irish middle-distance running.  O’Lionaird runs for the Leevale AC and points out he’s only the second-fastest 1500m runner in his club’s history.

“Mark Carroll and Marcus O’Sullivan are from the same club as me,” O’Lionaird observed.  “So, when you’re a 3:34 guy and you’re still not the top guy from your club in Ireland, and I’m still behind Marcus on that list, that’s saying something.”

With the first of three rounds of the Olympic 1500m scheduled to take place in just 11 days, O’Lionard said he just has to take things one round at a time, and not project too far forward.  He’s realistic about his chances, but said that he’s a good tactician which should help him to advance.

“I don’t think worrying’s going to do anything for me,” he intoned.  “At this point, my body is what it is.  I’ve been dealt the cards I’ve been dealt and I have to play them the best that I can.”

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