again for Sonia O’Sullivan full of New
Mike Hurst for the IAAF
30 December 2001 - Christmas came two days early for Sonia O’Sullivan with the birth of her second child, Sophie, in Melbourne, Australia.
Yet while the other new mums felt they were doing well to be sitting up in bed opening their presents on Christmas Day, the Irish superstar was already out walking briskly in the Tan (Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens). And she is also busy hatching plans to compete for the host nation in the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships in Dublin in March. “I’ll be more looking forward to it when I get closer to it and I know how fit I am,” said O’Sullivan, the only runner to have won both long and short course cross-country races at the same world championships (1998 in Morocco).
She was puffing a little while striding along on her second, faster walk of the day having off-loaded Sophie and sister Ciara on Australian partner, Nick Bideau.
“At the moment the main thing for me is to start running again; to get back into things normally without getting injured,” O’Sullivan continued. “The main thing is to come back as quickly as possible but, at the same time, as easily as possible.
“I have to be careful not to push it too much and get injured because I know that your body is so fragile at this stage, everything is a bit loose and you have to be careful.”
Second time around, O’Sullivan is not entirely on unfamiliar ground. Twelve weeks after Ciara was born in 1999, O’Sullivan ran 70min 10sec for a half-marathon in the Great North Run in England. A week later she clocked a world best of 24min 27sec for five miles on the road in Loughrea in County Galway, Ireland.
It just so happens that the world cross in Dublin falls exactly 13 weeks from the date of Sophie’s happy arrival on December 23. So now the race is on to make the Dublin deadline. “I’ll walk for just a week or 10 days. I think after 10 days I’ll gradually start back running,” said O’Sullivan, the Sydney Olympic Games 5000m silver medallist.
“I had a look in my diary after Ciara was born just to see what I did. I’ll probably try and do similar things.
“I just started off running for 20mins and I think anybody could have kept up with me. And I’ll just gradually build it from there, even adding one or two minutes a day until I’m up to a normal run.
“I was aiming to start running on the first of January, 2002. I’m a couple of days behind schedule, but I still might go out and see how I feel. “It’s always nice to be running on the first day of the year. Even if it’s a walk-jog type of thing, it’s beneficial.”
O’Sullivan had been in top shape coming up to the 2001 world cross-country championships in Dublin and there was great consternation when, because of the foot and mouth disease scare, the titles were transfered on short notice to Ostend in Belgium.
Out of a strong sense of duty, an ailing O’Sullivan ran in Ostend where she failed to finish the 4km race.
She had earlier competed at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Lisbon with a chest infection and she was in deep trouble well before stepping into the mud.
Referring to the transfer of the great event from Dublin, O’Sullivan admitted: “I was probably one of the happier people that it wasn’t there - just because I knew I wasn’t right.
“And to be given a second chance means that if I have the opportunity this time I’ll really take advantage of it. I’ll really do whatever I can. “Irish people they just love running so much and especially cross-country. “I think it’s one of the countries where the world cross-country actually started. Ireland was one of the first countries in it. “It goes way back to when there used to be a race between Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and I think France.
“When a few more countries joined in, they decided to have the first world cross-country.”
The last time Ireland hosted the world cross-country was in 1979 in Limerick when John Treacy was victorious, a prelude to his Olympic marathon silver medal surprise five years later in Los Angeles.
All Irish eyes will be smiling if another fighting Irish could bring off a victory this time in Dublin.
“Winning is what most people would like to see me do, but in some ways there won’t be that much of an expectation,” O’Sullivan said, refering to the timing of Sophie’s birth.
“I think people will be surprised more than anything else if I actually run.
“So the first thing for me to think about is being able to run. After that, it’s how well can I run?”
Then of course it’s a question of whether the Irish team selectors will welcome her home.
But O’Sullivan is satisfied with their assurances. “They’ve left the door open for me, for as long as possible. I’ll keep them updated on my progress and what I’m doing out here,” she said. “They won’t pick the team until two weeks before Dublin, so there’s plenty of time to know if you’re ready or not.”
In the meanwhile O’Sullivan feels invigorated on the threshhold of a new year, a new season, with a new baby and new opportunities in the sport she still loves.
“It’s a new challenge,” she enthused.
“I’m starting from scratch again. It’s nice to start with a clean sheet.
“Everything you do you get better all the time.”