“The training requires discipline and focus.”

Photo courtesy of Wally Galea

Snapshot of The Maltese: Dario Mangion
Athletics, like a lot of so-called secondary sports, faces a constant struggle against the behemoth that is football.  Boys and, increasingly, girls are more likely to pick the sport which they see most frequently being relayed on televisions - football - than anything else regardless of where their talent truly lies.

Sometimes, however, they make a different choice.  Dario Mangion is a case in point although his story is not that straightforward.

“I always loved running, and enjoyed all the different events I took part in,” he explains. “In my teens, I won the 800m and 1500m intermediate national championships and started to take training more seriously.”

“My coach at the time, Mario Pisani, always showed great commitment and encouragement.  I was in the list for FISEC games but unfortunately, I got injured and could not participate. It was a great disappointment and I decided to switch to football.” “

“I trained regularly and never missed a session however I missed athletics and at age twenty returned to athletics again.”

His motivation to do so was clear.  “Having been so close to make the national team, I never let go of the idea of representing the nation. This fuelled my dedication and commitment to training. I strongly wanted to be the best I could possibly be.”

“At first it was difficult to train hard and adjust to the new training regime. However, I was happy to be back 'home' in athletics and making new friends.”

Even so, he admits that occasionally it gets tough.  “It is always difficult to juggle both work and training.  Since I finished university, I started working full time and opened my own private practice. However, if one is committed and determined to succeed in anything he will find the necessary time and resources to succeed.”

“It is not easy to wake up for your jog at five in the morning, rain or shine, work, train and stick to a rigid nutrition plan, when you're away from home from 6am to 9pm. It is the people closest to me that make my schedule feasible; my family, my fiancé, team mates and colleagues at work, all of whom understand and give me their support.”

“It is always a great privilege, honour and motivation for an athlete to represent his country.  Still, the key for motivation comes from within. Athletics takes you to a special place, brings you in tune with your body, and helps you discover your strengths and your limits which can be pushed and developed session after session. The feeling of satisfaction and gratification when you give your best in training or in an event is indescribable and repays all the daily hard work and sacrifices one has made.”

Thankfully, there have been plenty of occasions during which he has reaped the benefit of his preparation.

“In 2015, I was selected to represent Malta in the 1st European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan for the 3,000m race.  It was a unique and exciting experience particularly as a new stadium was built for these games.”

“There was good attendance, and I felt confident and proud going out of the call room onto the track for the race.”

“The coaches and the rest of the Maltese team were in the stands near the starting line.  We were called to the starting line, amongst us was Hayle Ibrahimov (of Azerbaijan), a world class athlete. I was excited and eager to give my best performance. The gun went off and after some jostling everyone set up in his place. I was warned that the race would start fast and discussed with the coach that I had to keep my pace over the first two kilometres no matter what.”

“I kept my pace and started making my way through the field one athlete at a time. As I started my final lap I heard the crowd cheer and changed pace to give it my all.  Two athletes were about fifty metres ahead of me, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Georgia. I steadily caught this group, as we turned for the last 100m I sprinted as hard as I could, to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina on the line for eighth place overall.”

“The results showed a nine second improvement on my personal best registering Malta’s fastest time in the 3km in 2015. It is a memory I particularly cherish, it was a race which turned out better than I had ever expected.”

Mangion’s running in the 3,000m is the result of a journey that has seen him take on the whole range of the middle distances.  “As I improved I experimented with different distances; briefly the 400m, then stepped up to the 800m. For the past three years I’ve been training with Xandru Grech. I managed to break the two minutes barrier in the 800m and represented Malta in the 3,000m for the first European Games and the Athletics’ Games for the Small States in Malta.”

His referral to his coach is a reflection of Mangion’s belief that “the athlete and his coach are one team and there should be always a good level of communication.”

“I believe that there is no ‘one glove fits all’ as every individual will respond differently to different schedules and different approaches to training. The fact that I have been running for a number of years makes me appreciate more the role a coach plays. The coach needs to be tough at times, a friend at others and a motivator at all times. As our coach says 'he is our no1 fan'.”

Mangion is eager to credit all the coaches who have trained him because “All my previous coaches gave me a set of skills which I could not have learnt with anybody else.”

They also guided him as he changed the distances in which he specialised.  “Shifting from the 400m to the 3,000m was not easy. My body needed time to adapt to the different training session and volume.”

“Preparation for the two distances vary greatly.  A 400m race is a long sprint which requires speed, power, good running form and speed endurance, whereas the 3,000m requires endurance, discipline and pacing.  When training for the 400m, the athlete will be focused on fast runs over shorter distances, strength work and runs at 100% effort.  Most of the runs focus on form and speed rather than recovery.  In contrast the 3,000m requires longer and more aerobic training.”

“The training requires discipline and focus.”

Photo courtesy of Wally Galea

Clearly, however, that challenge has energised him as he is now going in for a new event.  “Having been running the 3,000m in the past two years I have decided to switch to the 3,000 Steeples Chase this season. It is a very tough race and requires both physical and mental stamina. Being tired towards the end of the race, and having to jump over a timber log anchored to the ground, is a significant challenge, one I am looking forward to overcome.”

Yet his focus remains the same as ever: representing Malta.

“It is always an honour representing your country and you always want to give the best performance. You need to feed on that 'pressure' in order to focus and get yourself ready for the race. The mental aspect is crucial and one must learn to manage his nerves during international competition, it is all about being confident and positive.”

“I see competing for Malta as an opportunity to capitalise on all the hard training and sacrifices throughout the season. It is the highlight of the season, for which athletes’ train and aim for.”

Enjoy athletics? Check out Snapshot of Malta's interviews with other leading Maltese athletes.


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