ONE OF IRELAND’S top track athletes hopes that a new online initiative could help him to secure additional funding for training and expenses.
World 1500m finalist Ciaran O’Lionaird is planning to launch a donation scheme which will give athletics fans a chance to contribute towards his preparations for this summer’s Olympic Games.
Originally from Macroom, County Cork, O’Lionaird is now based with the Nike Oregon Project in Portland where he works out daily as part of a high-performance team which includes Britain’s World 5000m champion Mo Farah.
But apart from Nike’s support and a €20,000 grant from the Irish Sports Council, the 23-year-old has little other income to help offset the costs of training, medical bills and physiotherapy, not to mention earning a living.
The financial pressure faced by some of Ireland’s top athletes came to light again this week when marathon runner Martin Fagan was handed a two-year ban for taking the illegal substance EPO. In a revealing interview with Ian O’Riordan in the Irish Times, Fagan explained that a combination of injury, financial worries and depression had contributed to his decision to take EPO last year.
O’Lionaird hit upon his idea when he read a post from an athletics fan on the Boards.ie message board, which asked if anyone would be interested in grouping together to support an athlete financially. O’Lionaird responded and a plan was set in motion, although he stresses that the project is still very much in its infancy.
“Finance is a tender issue for everybody at the moment, not just athletes,” O’Lionaird told TheScore.ie this evening. “When I saw the discussion on Boards, I wanted to reach out and get people’s thoughts.
Athletics supporters are extremely passionate, but there’s no real way for them to show their support like rugby or football fans do when they buy a jersey. This could be a way for supporters to contribute and feel that little bit more connected.
“Obviously it would be great if there are people who want to try and help me, but I’d hope that this might be a template which all Irish athletes could use.”
After suffering a back injury which threatened to end his career in 2010, O’Lionaird bounced back last season to become one of Ireland’s top performers at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. There, he became the first Irish man to qualify for a world 1500m final since 1995 and ran the third fastest time of his career in the final, where he finished in tenth place.
Since then, the man who dubs himself “Mad Len” — and whom others have christened “The Bullet with the Mullet” due to his iconic hairstyle — has become a firm favourite among athletics fans. Developing and strengthening that relationship with the Irish public is as important to him as financial support, he explains.
“After Daegu, I got such a positive response. It really is such a huge sense of encouragement when you’re out training.
I’m competing for myself, but I’m also competing for Ireland. It’s not just me when I’m out there for a run on my own, I’ve got the support of thousands of people as well. It’s a great source of motivation and inspiration.
O’Lionaird has already achieved the Olympic qualifying time, leaving the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul in March as his only major engagement between now and the summer. As for his Olympic preparations, it’s so far so good, he says.
“I’m so far ahead of where I was this time last year. Last January, the 1500m and the World Championships weren’t even on the horizon. Now I’m training under Alberto [Salazar, Nike Oregon Project's head coach] and with Mo and the American lads.
“It’s tough, but I’m definitely on track for London and I’m very excited.”