A fan of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, Ciarán Ó Lionáird was “laughing in my mind to Larry David, and the Car Periscope episode I watched the night before”, the Irish Times reported. At that moment, the Cork athlete was in the early laps of his World Championship 1,500 metres heat last August.
Duly chilled out, Ó Lionáird then moved up and qualified for the semi-final. He went all the way to the final, finishing 10th with a good performance.
This anecdote encapsulates why Ó Lionáird, nicknamed ‘Mad Len’, is gaining an army of fans and revitalising Irish middle-distance running – he has the combination of talent and attitude which suggests that anything is possible. Ó Lionáird’s strong-minded independence was often captured by references to the impressive mullet he wore until recently but which had been cut off by the time of last month’s Boston Indoor Games. He has also taken the initiative in looking for funding and highlighting this issue for Ireland’s élite athletes.
Perhaps the shorn mullet lightened his load in Boston – Ó Lionáird chalked up an impressive win in the mile, clocking 3:56:01 and beating Mo Farah, current World 5,000 metres champion and fancied for an Olympic 5,000 – 10,000 metre double. Farah is a training partner of Ó Lionáird at the Nike Project in Beaverton, Oregon, a state-of-the-art camp for a select band of élite young runners trained by former U.S. marathon runner Alberto Salazar. That the Irishman made it to such exclusive settings just goes to show what a serious prospect he is.
Next up for Ó Lionáird is the 1,500 metres at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul this weekend. He follows in the footsteps of fellow Cork runner Marcus O’Sullivan, who won this title three times (in 1987, 1989 and 1993) – the last flowering of Ireland’s golden age of men’s middle-distance running and a feat which has never gained the popular acclaim it deserves. Then in the early summer it’s off to Helsinki (scene of famous triumphs for Eamonn Coghlan and another Cork running legend, Sonia O’Sullivan) for the European Championships. After that, there’s the small matter of the Olympic Games in London. Ó Lionáird is one of the big hopes for Irish athletics fans in these three major championships of 2012.
Here’s Ó Lionáird in his first major final – last year’s World 1,500 metres final. The footage is from French television, hence the frequent shots of their man Mehdi Baala. As the Irishman is introduced in the starting line-up and shows his mullet to the camera (1 min. 15 sec.), the French commentator says “We’re not used to seeing the Irish in the summer [championships]; they perform better indoors”. And you can’t really argue with that.
Ó Lionáird runs well here – he stays out of trouble, keeps his powder dry and is still in touch with the leaders at the bell. Unfortunately, on this day he doesn’t have the arsenal of kicks and gear changes needed over the last 200 metres to live with the two Kenyans, Asbel Kiprop and Silas Kiplagat. But plenty of positives for Ó Lionáird to build on before Istanbul, Helsinki and London: