Aug. 4, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Just shy of two months from his lowest moment in an otherwise outstanding senior season at Florida State, Ciaran O’Lionaird thrust himself onto the world scene in a hastily put together 1500-meter race in Oordegem, Belgium.
O’Lionaird’s life changed the moment he cross the finish line, where the clock read: 3:34.46.
Not only did it earn the Irishman a spot in the Aug. 30 field heats of the 1500 at the World Championships in Daegu, Korea, it also gave him an Olympic A-standard qualifying time.
The Aug. 2 race in Belgium was the most recent impressive effort in a string summer performances abroad by the former Seminole star, who earned cross country All-American and Academic All-American honors this past season. It also distanced him from two days he would just as soon forget, when he failed to score in the 10,000 and 5,000 at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, where the Seminoles came up one point shy of a national championship.
Despite a career filled with injury and illness – he struggled mightily with his breathing at the NCAA Championships – O’Lionard has emerged as the latest in a long line of outstanding milers from Ireland; a country which has produced well over 40 men who have crashed the 4-minute barrier.
With his sights now set on the World Championships and down the road to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, O’Lionaird took a few minutes to answer some questions via email about his spectacular performance in Belgium, his Florida State career and new-found place among Ireland’s greats. He also candidly talked about bouncing back this summer from his darkest days at the NCAA meet.
Were you at all surprised by your breakthrough 1500?
Of course, to run a PB (personal best) by over 6 seconds is a massive drop, and one you can’t really expect. In fact, the race itself was construed last Saturday night by a bunch of us athletes who were disgruntled at the slow pace of the races so far this summer. We just decided to get in line, pin our ears back and shoot for something special. And the result was better than anything I could have imagined.
What does it personally mean to earn a spot at Worlds and establish an Olympic A-standard time?
For me, it’s about finally living up to the talent I showed as a junior before I got some serious injuries. The Olympics were always in my thoughts as the ultimate goal in high school as is the case with most runners that age. Those plans were shelved for a while as I struggled to overcome some injury issues, but to come back and achieve the standard off of just one years’ consistent training is very exciting.
Take us through the race?
Well, as I said we had decided to just get in line and go and forget about pushing and shoving for place. Because I had the slowest PR going in, I was instructed to go right to the back and was about 59 seconds for the 1st quarter. Given my time is the equivalent of a 3:50 mile, I had a considerable negative split. I made a big move on the third lap, with about 600 to go and got towards the front. The last lap I just thought about racing. The Ethiopian (Dawit Wolde), Nate Brannen and I were all duking it out and often, it’s that competitiveness and desire to win that can provide the catalyst for a special last lap.
When did you realize that you could be elite in the 1500? Was it the late-season 1500 at the FSU Seminole Invite, or did you know you had what it took?
It was probably that (Seminole Invite) and the ACC 1500 where I held off (Virginia’s Robbie) Andrews. Coach Braman did a tremendous job of getting me in super shape for the 5k and 10k, and we found after the home meet and the workouts that followed before ACC’s that I just seemed to have a natural ability to tolerate the buildup of lactic acid without much specific1500 work. My foot-speed probably isn’t notable compared to many elite milers, but Coach Braman just got me to such a high level of aerobic fitness that I was fresh going into the closing stages of races and could utilize a strong kick.
Perhaps no race means more to a country than the mile to Ireland: How much pride is there to be a part of that distinguished group (Eamon Coghlan, Ray Flynn, John Treacy, Marcus O’Sullivan, Frank O’Mara, et al) – or do you feel as if you belong at this point?
The mile has a tremendous history in Ireland. It’s an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as those legends. On paper, my 3:34 is right up there, but I don’t feel like I belong just yet to that specific group. What defined the milers of that era was the longevity of their respective careers coupled with their consistency. This is my first year healthy and running well. When I can string together a couple of more and do the business in the major championships, then maybe I can stand in line with those guys.
What’s next for you leading up to the Worlds? Also, will you share your previous race results since you’ve left FSU?
Since finishing at FSU, I did some training at home and raced a low-key 1500 and frankly got dusted. But it opened up my lungs and shocked my body and I followed it up with the following:
Dublin Mile 3:57 (3rd)
Liege 3k 7:50 (3rd)
Heusden 5k 13:33 (11th)
Manchester 1500 3:40 (1st)
Gent 1500 3:41 (2nd)
Oordegem 1500 3:34 (2nd)
Before Worlds I plan on running our (Ireland’s) national championships 800 metres as a sharpener for Worlds, and then the Falmouth Mile on August 13th.
Finally, given the way your FSU career ended, how satisfying has this summer been? Was it at all difficult to put the NCAA meet behind you?
From an individual standpoint, to turn things around like I have probably opens up a lot of doors that perhaps shut after NCAA’s. But to lose by one point and for me to not score a single point, having been ranked so high still cuts rather deep. I credit Coach Braman for turning my running career around and having faith in me as a competitor and I wanted nothing more than to help us win NCAA’s for himself and all those who help us student-athletes here. It was unfortunate how things turned out that weekend, but I suppose it’s said you’re not necessarily defined by your success so much as your ability to react to failure. I feel that since NCAA’s I’ve gathered myself well and that’s a credit to the amazing support group I have around me, with my family at home and my FSU track and field family at the core.