European Indoors: Ciara Mageean back in medals after major championship lows
Portaferry athlete Ciara Mageean says winning a European Indoor bronze medal means "an awful lot" after enduring some crushing disappointments at major championships in recent years.
"I just wanted to walk off the track with my head held high," said Mageean after Sunday's 1500m final in Glasgow.
"I've beaten myself up before after I've finished but I go out to enjoy my athletics now as well. We're athletes, not robots."
Mageean's stellar junior career, which included becoming the only non-African athlete to win a medal in any of the middle and long distance races at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Moncton, inevitably meant expectations were high when the county Down athlete entered the senior ranks.
However, Mageean's first full senior season in 2012 saw the athlete's progress being severely hindered by an ankle injury which wrecked her hopes of competing at the London Olympics and eventually required surgery in the autumn of 2013.
The injury kept Mageean out for two years before she made her return to action when beating Fionnuala McCormack to win Irish 1500m title at Santry in July 2014.
By that stage, Mageean was being coached in Dublin by Jerry Kiernan following the athlete's split from Belfast man, Eamonn Christie, who had guided her sensational junior career.
Mageean moved to Vernon after London 'disaster'
Despite a light racing programme in 2015, the Portaferry woman secured Olympic qualification with the European Championships in Amsterdam providing an ideal tune up a month in advance of Rio.
Mageean's bronze medal behind Poland's Angelika Cichocka and Dutch favourite Sifan Hassan in the Netherlands suggested that the Northern Irish woman was on course to challenge strongly for a place in the Rio final - despite the loaded women's 1500m field.
An impressive opening heat performance only heightened expectations that Mageean was on course to reach the Olympic decider only for her to finishing a chastening 11th in her semi-final.
Less than two weeks later, Mageean regrouped to cut more than five seconds off her previous 1500m personal best as she clocked a time of 4:01.46 which left her 12th in the 2016 end-of-season world rankings.
However, Mageean dropped out of the European indoor 1500m final in Belgrade six months later, citing the recurrence of an Achilles injury.
Worse was to follow in the summer of 2017 as she finished 13th and last in her 1500m heat at the World Championships in London, with the county Down woman dubbing her performance as a "disaster".
After her London disappointment, Mageean opted to uproot from her Dublin training base and join the group of New Balance sponsored athletes in Stockport coached by Steve Vernon.
Her initial major championship performances as she exited in the 1500m heats at last year's World Indoors in Birmingham and finished 13th in the metric mile final at the Commonwealth Games were not particularly encouraging.
Mageean 'lives to run in green, white and gold'
However, Mageean's fourth spot at the European Championships in Berlin last August, as she was caught for the bronze by Britain's Laura Weightman in the final 50 metres, suggested the athlete was on the way back and that was confirmed by her fine performance on Sunday as she finished ahead of several quality athletes to clinch her second senior major championship medal.
"I'm delighted absolutely," said Mageean as she clocked 4:09.43 which left her behind Britain's runaway winner Laura Muir and Poland's Sofia Ennaoui, who edged out the Irishwoman for the silver.
"I came into these championships to win a medal and I'm happy to win that bronze, while a part of me is a bit annoyed that it's not silver.
"That's the athlete and the competitor in me but if anyone said to me a few months back, you can take any medal, I'd have said: 'Yeah. I'll have that'."
After being lobbed an Irish tricolour immediately after the race, Mageean kissed the flag to emphasise the sense of privilege she feels in representing her country.
"I'm delighted to see the Irish flag raised. I live to run in that green, while and gold. People talk about different things in athletics but I don't do it for the money and the amazing times and very few and far between."
Following her indoor success, Mageean will now focus her training on preparing for the World Championships which take place on an usually late September and early October date in Doha.
The standard in Doha and indeed at next year's Olympics in Tokyo, will be severely rungs higher than she faced in Glasgow but Mageean will face those challenges in a rejuvenated frame of mind following her weekend success.