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Radcliffe and O’Sullivan ready for their day at the races

Radcliffe and O’Sullivan ready for their day at the races
Chris Turner for the IAAF
19 March 2002 - The Leopardstown race course in Dublin, which next weekend hosts the 30th IAAF World Cross Country Championships, has attracted Europe’s finest women’s cross country duo, Britain’s Paula Radcliffe, the reigning long course champion, and Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan, the 1998 long and short course champion. Radcliffe and O’Sullivan, are the only European senior women to have succeeded at these championships, since the victory of Portugal’s Albertina Dias on home turf in Amorebieta in 1993.

Radcliffe and O’Sullivan, will each ‘only’ contest one distance in Dublin, the long and short course races respectively, with each athlete for totally different reasons, trying to conserve some of the energy which in previous championships has seen them both ‘double up’ and tackle an extremely arduous weekend of racing. 

Radcliffe decided to run just the long race because of the small amount of time between Dublin and her much awaited marathon debut in London this April. However, as to the question of whether the World Cross Country is still important to her, her answer is unequivocal.

“Oh yes!” Radcliffe said last week. “I have said all winter that the main focus is the Flora London Marathon and the World Cross is secondary, but if you ask me to choose between the two at this moment, I couldn’t. The World Cross has always been tremendously important to me…and it is more so this time because I am defending champion.”

Radcliffe was speaking last week, just prior to flying to Limerick in Ireland to see sports physical therapist guru Gerard Hartmann, before once more jetting off to the La Manga club in Spain, on promotional duty for the London Marathon organisers. It would seem a very heavy schedule just a week before she defends her World Cross Country title but she is confident that she is on target to become the first woman to successfully defend the long course title, since America’s Lynn Jennings in Boston, a decade ago.

“I want to win it as often as possible,” confirmed Radcliffe. “I certainly want to defend my title successfully in Dublin. The training has gone well. I have been really pleased with the last eight weeks. I am going into Dublin in as good a shape as I have ever gone into a World Cross,” concluded the Briton who also has one bronze and two silver medals from the championships to her name.

Sonia O’Sullivan, by contrast to Radcliffe, is probably lucky to be running at all in Dublin, as it was only on December 23rd 2001 in a Melbourne hospital, that O’Sullivan gave birth to her second daughter Sophie! However, O’Sullivan, the 1998 double World champion, is adamant that Dublin was always in her plans, and that her recent fitness has indicated that racing is a realistic prospect.

“I always wanted to run in Dublin, but was never convinced until the past few weeks when my training has improved a lot, and I feel I will be a really useful point scorer for Ireland,” confirmed O’Sullivan. “I was in Ireland last week for the short course trial and I could sense the excitement surrounding the World Cross Country Championships. It will be a great day for all athletes especially the Irish and a great day out for all Irish sporting fans.”

O’Sullivan kept up a good level of fitness prior to Sophie’s birth, and was even in the gym on the morning of the delivery! It is upon that fitness base that she has built, taking each training session as it comes.

”I have improved my training every week, running faster and further, I am just about back to normal training and feel that I have a solid base of training to build on in the lead up to the summer track season. Each race run improves my fitness…. I am fit and healthy and looking forward to running as best I can on March 24th.”

As to specific aims for the race, O’Sullivan is naturally realistic but given the nature of her athletic pedigree, surely nothing should be discounted.

“I would hope to finish in the top 10, running as close to the leaders as possible, for as long as possible,” continued O’Sullivan, who failed to finish the short course race in Ostend last year. “You never know what will happen as the race gets closer to the finish…. I know that if I get tired that I will see an Irish flag or hear a little child cheering for me and I will block out the pain and put in an extra effort to improve my position.