Flanagan turns in personal best in the steeplechase at Olympics
When you compete in the Olympic Games and you turn in a personal best performance, well that’s saying something. Eilish Flanagan, the star cross country and track and field runner from Adams State, did just that when she competed on Saturday, July 31, for her home country of Ireland in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Flanagan made Ireland’s Olympic track and field team in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and then turned in a personal best performance of 9:34.86 to finish 12th in her heat. She did not advance but the experience of The Games is something she will build on when she returns to Alamosa to continue her training under Adams State Director of Track and Field Damon Martin.
“I knew I was capable of running a PB (personal best) but it was tough with the heat,” Flanagan told The Irish Examiner following her race. “I was trying to run my own race and not think of the names and their times. I stayed at the back and was aiming to work up a little more. It worked out.
“It’s definitely still surreal,” she said of her Olympic experience. “I can’t really comprehend I’m here and have competed at the Olympics.”
When she returns to Alamosa to train under Martin she also will work to complete a master’s degree at Adams State.
The Citizen caught up with Eilish Flanagan, Adams State All-American and now an Olympian in the steeplechase for her home country of Ireland. We talked to Eilish via What’sApp just ahead of her departure to the Tokyo Olympic Games. Her first race representing Ireland in the Olympic steeplechase will be on Aug. 1. The Olympic Games are on NBC.
AC: What are your latest thoughts on the Tokyo Olympic Games and where are you with your training and preparation?
I’m very excited right now. I am super thankful for everyone who has helped get me here, very grateful and honored to have the opportunity to do everyone proud.
Training has been going the best it’s ever been, so I’m excited to put myself up against the world’s best athletes.
AC: Can you give us some insight into how your world has changed since qualifying for the Olympic Games, and what it means for you to compete and represent Ireland?
It’s definitely life changing, that’s for sure. It means everything to put on the Irish vest. It’s such a big stage. My first senior vest, and of course to be in the Olympics is unbelievable. I am in quite a bit of disbelief, but I’m excited not to just represent my country but Adams State and everyone who has got me here. It’s not just big for me, but a big accomplishment for a lot of other people who have been involved.
What was your journey to Alamosa and Adams State? Were you recruited? How did that happen?
My coach at the time, Conor Moore, helped. I wasn’t very good at the time at all, but Adams State got back immediately and my coach said “you can’t pass up this opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity to run for such a prestigious college.” And Coach Martin (Adams State coach Damon Martin) was immediately in contact with us and we didn’t even question it and agreed to go.
Can you update us on your plans after the Olympics? Will we see you and your sister (twin sister Roisin) back in Alamosa?
Yes, that’s the plan is to go back and train there under Coach Martin for the time being. It’s been working, so I’m not really ready to change that yet. Hopefully I’ll finish off my master’s at Adams State. (Eilish graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from Adams State in 2020)
How did you get so strong in the steeplechase? What is the key to that race for you?
I think it’s just been over time, and then during the year of consistent strength work, doing more work in the gym and ensuring my legs are strong because it takes more than just the running ability. Coach Martin has done a great job implementing hurdle work, practicing my technique and stuff. No better way than to race a few good steeples. I’ve done a lot of those and with time you get better. Over time I’ve improved each year, obviously with the help of Coach Martin and training. You have to train yourself mentally as well as physically. So I’ve done as much mental preparation as physical training, and the mental training helps especially when it doesn’t go right.
How has Adams State prepared you for your track career? Has the altitude made a difference in your training?
Yes, definitely. The altitude has been one of the biggest factors. Training there at a high altitude has benefitted me when coming down to sea level. It took me a while to adapt to altitude, but it got to a point where my body got used to it and I can train at higher altitude now. Adam State has made me into the runner I am today. When I first got there, I was the last girl on the team and I just gradually worked my way up and I was inspired by each and everyone of my teammates and with Coach Martin and the various assistant coaches who came through. They did a great job of helping me and preparing me.
At what point did you know that the steeplechase was your race?
“Well after my first one at altitude my freshman year, I never wanted to do it ever again. But then two weeks later I went to sea level and ran almost two minutes faster, and then I think after NCAA nationals my sophomore year when I came runner-up is when I really had potential in the event.”
What does it feel like to be an Olympian?Has it sunk in?
I think it’s still sinking in. It will probably sink in when I’m there. They hadn’t officially announced the team until last night (July 8) so I am still in quite a bit of disbelief, but now it’s getting real. I picked up all the gear and so that was quite special. It was pretty sweet.
How are you preparing for the Games?
“I’ve been focusing on training and getting in the heat chamber, going into the sauna, it’s all been pretty hectic. Over the next three days I have three COVID tests before flying out of Dublin on Thursday (July 15) for Tokyo. I’ll land there and then we check into the Olympic Village.”
And your parents and sister, how are they?
“They’re beaming with pride and I have to thank them for all the love and support. Roisin has done a lot for me, and she’s yet to do a lot more herself.”
Adams State Career: Team title cross country in 2009; Indoor National Champion; School record holder in indoor 5K; nine time NCAA All American; Member of women’s perfect scoring team.