Redshirt sophomore Ciaran O’Lionaird doesn’t want to be known as a crazy foreigner who competes for the Michigan men’s cross country and track and field teams.

The Cork, Ireland native dominated the Irish high school circuit and quickly became a fixture in the European running community after strong performances on the national stage.

O’Lionaird, a three-time Irish national cross country champion, took notice of the Wolverines after the successes of notable international runners, like Canadians Kevin Sullivan and Nate Brannen and New Zealand’s Nick Willis.

Those three former Wolverines competed in the Beijing Olympics, and O’Lionaird hopes to someday compete on the grand stage, too.

“For a lot of international kids coming in, that’s what the goal is,” O’Lionaird said.

O’Lionaird gained confidence in the offseason by training with Willis and Brannen. Michigan coach Ron Warhurst explained that few runners have the opportunity to run with some of the world’s best.

“I really got to see and experience what it feels like to be an Olympic medalist,” O’Lionaird said. “I was basically living like a full-time runner.”

But O’Lionaird has had doubts along the way. The biggest adjustment has been getting used to the consistently fierce competition in the NCAA.

“Here, I have to be ready to race every weekend,” O’Lionaird said. “Back home, I would have to show up maybe twice a season.”

Warhurst realizes the difficulties associated with the transition from high school to the collegiate level, especially with international talent. He acknowledged that many international runners are unsure about academics and how they fit into the program while adapting to a new environment.

“I’m trying to Americanize him,” Warhurst said with a laugh.

O’Lionaird struggled at times to find his stride in his first two years with the Wolverines. After redshirting his freshman year, O’Lionaird had a disappointing campaign last season, failing to finish in the top 10 of any cross country invitational.

“I found it really difficult getting my ass kicked in practice and then in races, too,” O’Lionaird said.

O’Lionaird said he thinks one reason for his mishaps was that he had to compete with his teammates rather than opposing teams. To prove himself, O’Lionaird took to front-running rather than embracing group strategy.

“I had to find a way to justify myself to Ronnie (Warhurst),” O’Lionaird said. “I didn’t feel like I was doing it, if I wasn’t in the lead.”

But this season, O’Lionaird has proven himself as one of the Wolverines’ top runners. At the Spartan Invitational on Sept. 12, he placed first overall for his first collegiate victory. The win earned him the Big Ten runner of the week honors.

O’Lionaird’s success this season has helped Michigan earn a No. 8 national ranking. The rankings place the Wolverines as the favorites to win the Big Ten title and the Great Lakes Regional.

“He’s made tremendous strides,” Warhurst said. “A year ago, he never thought of tactics.”

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