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Sonia O'Sullivan plays waiting game

O'Sullivan plays waiting game.

16 March 2000 - Vilamoura, Portugal - The accepted wisdom is that giving birth enhances, rather than diminishes a woman's athletic ability. Which is why the world's best distance runners are keeping a wary eye on Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan, who after an extraordinary 1998 season, took most of last year off before giving birth to her first child.

It was almost exactly two years ago that Sonia O'Sullivan turned up in Marrakech, Morocco, and won two gold medals in two races at the World Cross Country Championships. It was the first time that long and short course races had been held at this event, and O'Sullivan's dramatic double not only provided great publicity for the new system, but helped re-launch her athletic career. A few months later, the Irish woman went on to secure another fantastic double - this time on the track at the European Championships in Budapest, winning the 5000m (by out-sprinting Gabriela Szabo) and also the 10,000m - an event she was contesting for the first time at a major Championships.

O'Sullivan has only recently flown back from her training base in Melbourne, Australia, and is due to arrive in Vilamoura on Thursday evening, just two days before the first event of what is considered the world's toughest competition for distance runners. Only then will O'Sullivan decide on which distance to run, or whether to run both.

With senior races of 4km and 8km for women (4km and 12km for men), the World Cross Country Championships brings together milers and marathoners on a middle ground that ensures exciting racing. It also means that O'Sullivan cannot afford to underestimate her opposition.

"I want to have a look at the course before making up my mind," she said. "Obviously, I am reasonably clear what I'm going to do but I need to check out a few things when I get there.

"The standard keeps getting better all the time and I've no doubts that the Algarve is going to be even harder for me than Marrakech," she said.

Because the "long" race, likely to be her better distance, is on Saturday, O'Sullivan could, as in 1998, race that event safe in the knowledge that she has nothing to lose by joining her Irish team mates in their challenge for team honours in the 4km race on Sunday.

O'Sullivan knows she is in good shape, having recorded 15:10.24 for 5000m and 31:43.07 for 10,000m recently in Australia. "If I can take that kind of form into the races at the weekend, I should be competitive."