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Irish eyes smiling on O’Sullivan’s prospects

Irish eyes smiling on O’Sullivan’s prospects
Steven Downes for the IAAF
22 March 2002 – Dublin, Ireland - Former champion Sonia O’Sullivan might be burdened with the expectations of all Ireland in the women’s short-course race at Leopardstown here on Sunday, although she was doing her best to diffuse the pressure at an IAAF press conference at the course on Friday.

“Ireland’s national treasure”, as O’Sullivan has been dubbed by local journalists, is competing in the IAAF/Sport Ireland World Cross-country Championships just 13 weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, Sophie.

“I’m fit and healthy and I’ve been running every day since January 1,” O’ Sullivan, 32, said, with her elder daughter, Ciara, seated beside her as she addressed the world’s press in calm, relaxed manner.

The hopes of the hosts are high that O’Sullivan could repeat the feat of John Treacy at Limerick in 1979, the last time the event was staged in Ireland, when he won the world cross-country title on home turf.

But O’Sullivan shrugs off expectations. “The support will be great, and could really lift me,” she said. “I have butterflies just looking at the course here today.

“But it could also be a distraction. It’s important that I get the balance right.

Asked how well she thinks she might perform, O’Sullivan said, “I don’t like to set myself limits. I hate limits. But I don’t want to expect too much, either. I just have to get out there early in the race and see how it goes.”

If O’Sullivan cannot deliver a medal individually, there are also hopes that she might be able to lead her countrywomen to a team medal, as she did in the long race in Turin in 1997.

The following year, 1998, when the short-course, 4km event was introduced when the championships were staged in Marrakech, Morocco, O’Sullivan stunned the running world by running - and winning - both races over the course of the weekend.

There was never any chance that she might attempt such a feat this time. “Fo ur kilometres is just about the perfect distance for me,” she said.  The Olympic 5,000m silver medallist was also optimistic that she has yet to reach her peak as an athlete. “I don’t know what my best is, because I haven ‘t reached my best yet,” she said.

“I definitely think I can run faster on the track than I have done before. If I didn’t think that, I think I would give up.”

She said that she had found her return to training had been easier than after she had given birth to Ciara. She was running within eight days of Sophie’s birth. “I knew what to expect, and it was much better than when I started back in 1999. It was hard at first. In January, when I had to go out there and try to run 10 miles in the morning, that was tough.

“But after a while, something clicked, and I’ve been making progress ever since.

“I’m not running 100 miles a week as I normally do, but I have been doing track session with my coach Alan Storey ever since we returned from Australia, and I am getting better every week.”

O’Sullivan did admit though, that had the championships been staged anywhere else than Ireland, she probably would not be racing so soon.

“If it wasn’t in Ireland, other people would have talked me out of doing it,” she said. “But there’s been enough people talking me into racing because it is in Ireland.”

But as one Irish athletics pundit put it later: “It doesn’t matter whether Sonia finishes fifth or 55th on Sunday, the crowd loves her and they’ll cheer her all the way home.”