Inside Track: Mageean and Griggs among those who set the pace in 2022

Ciara Mageean of Ireland celebrates her silver medal in the European Championship Women's 1500m final in Munich
Ciara Mageean of Ireland celebrates her silver medal in the European Championship Women's 1500m final in Munich

Inside Track Athlete of the Year: Ciara Mageean

It has never been easier to select the athlete of the year. It has been a stellar year for Ciara Mageean with the Portaferry woman winning silver medals in both the European Championships and Commonwealth Games.

However, the highlight of her summer came on a balmy evening in Brussels when she marked herself among the best in the world with an unexpected victory in the Ivo Van Damme Memorial Diamond League fixture.

The 30-year-old former camog had for years been on the global 1500m scene, a finalist in the World Championships in 2019, but in the space of four minutes, three minutes 56.63 seconds to be accurate, she propelled herself to the very top of the pyramid.

In a loaded field, Mageean held off Britain’s Laura Muir and Ethiopia’s Freweyni Hailu for the best victory of her career to date. Muir had earlier beaten her to the gold medal in both the Commonwealths and Europeans.

It was her first time under four minutes for the Down woman, her previous best being 4:00.15 in 2019, and broke Sonia O’Sullivan’s 27-year-old Irish record by more than two seconds.

“I am on cloud nine,” said Mageean after the record-breaking win.

“I knew I had it in me to go under four and I thought I had it in me to get a new Irish record, but you always think it’s never going to be easy to low 3:58s having never gone under four before. I didn’t really fathom a 3:56 to be honest.”

Mageean only got into the race at the last minute and that after representations by her agent Donegal man Richard Simms.

“Truth be told, it was a battle to get into that race,” Mageean said.

“On Thursday, I wasn’t on the start list, I was called up fairly late to the race. I know that my agent Ricky Simms was working hard to get me on the line and was trying to convince the meet race director saying, ‘you have to give her a chance, she’s in good shape.’

“He thought it would have been a definite after winning two major medals over the summer but because they were not super-fast times, I was put on the substitutes’ list, I was still on the bench, I wasn’t making the starting panel.

“So, I’m super glad that I got the call up and got that opportunity, as I did a blistering session in the week leading into it and I knew that I was in good shape.”

The Down athlete opened her season in style, finishing second over 800m at the Belfast Milers’ Meet running

under two minutes. She would

have been delighted with that had she not had a close-up view of Louise Shanahan in front of her taking Mageean’s Irish record with a 1:59.42 timing. The City of Lisburn athlete improved to 1:59.03 at Stretford in July but that the mark did not count for record purposes as it was in a mixed race.

She missed the World Championships in Oregon through Covid but bounced back to take her Commonwealth silver in Birmingham at the start of August in 4:04.14.

Just 12 days later she claimed a second silver, runner-up again behind Muir, at the Europeans in Munich. This time in 4:02.56.

That unforgettable evening followed in Brussels at the start of September before another second place (4:02.56) at the Diamond League final in Zurich where Muir got her revenge in 4:01.08.

Athletics fans can expect an early matchup between Mageean and Muir again in the new year when they

clash over 3000m at the Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston at the start of February.

After temporarily moving to New York during Covid, the meeting returns to the New Balance state-of-the-art indoor track and field facility at the company’s world headquarters in Massachusetts.

Inside Track Young Athlete of the Year: Nick Griggs

If Norway has Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Ireland has Nick Griggs. The 18-year-old Newmills youth shows every sign that he can mature into world class like the Norwegian – with the right handling.

The young Tyrone man was on fire during the indoor season scattering long-standing age group records in all directions.

He set national U20 marks for both 1500m (3:43.71) and 3000m (7:57.38) before running a fantastic 3:56.40 for the mile which was a European U20 record.

He was equally impressive during the summer season as he recorded national U20 marks in the mile (3:58.51) and 3000m (7:53.40), as well as a personal best in the 1500m (3:42.72). He possibly got a reality check at the World Juniors in Colombia when the east Africans proved tougher nuts to crack in Cali as Griggs finished ninth in 8:04.42.

Normal service was resumed in the autumn as he finished second at the Northern Ireland International Cross Country before taking the Irish title in his age group.

The European Cross Country gold was in his grasp in Turin before a stumble 50 metres before the winning line saw him lose his rhythm and see Great Britain’s Will Barnicoat beat him by centimetres.

An exciting 2023 beckons for the Mid Ulster star with defence of his European Junior 3000m title in Finland well up his agenda.

Inside Track Master Athlete of the Year: David Clarke

Selecting the top master athlete was difficult with a number of outstanding candidates. In the end, David Clarke got over the line in first place, as he has done so often in the past 12 months, on the sheer number of international medals he won and records set.

The North Belfast Harrier had a field day at the European Masters’ Indoor Championships in Portugal in February.

Clarke came home with two gold medals (1500m and 3000m) as well as a silver in the 800m. In preparation for the meeting, he had scored a double, again over 1500m and 3000m, at the Irish Masters’ Championships in Athlone as well as setting Northern Ireland records for his age-group at distances 800m-3000m.

He did not relent after the indoor season, going on to take three medals at the World Masters’ Championships in Finland at the start of July. This time he came home with silvers in the 800m and 1500m as well as a bronze in the 5000m.

The seemly indefatigable Larne man then turned his attention to the roads and at the Antrim Coast Half Marathon in his home town he and his daughter April posted a father/daughter world record for the distance that received due accreditation from the Guinness Book of Records (below).