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O'Sullivan aiming to regain title

Steven Downes for IAAF

22 March 2001 – If there is one runner who will be feeling out of place this weekend in Ostend, it will be Ireland’s heroine, Sonia O’Sullivan.

But any feelings of displacement by being in the Belgian seaside town, rather than running in her own capital city, are sure to be dispelled once she toes the start line.

The Olympic 5000 metres silver medallist has been forced to spend the last two weeks rapidly altering her travel, training and accommodation plans, after spending her entire winter building up to an attempt to become the first Irish athlete since John Treacy in Limerick in 1979 to win a World Cross-country title on home soil.

But precautionary measures to avoid spreading the outbreak of foot and mouth disease to Ireland’s livestock saw this weekend’s championships switched from Dublin to Belgium, thus postponing O’Sullivan’s bid for Irish glory for 12 months - the IAAF Council has already decided that Ireland’s athletics federation, which has lost around $700,000 on the aborted event, should be granted another chance to stage the World Cross in 2002.

"After two years of organising the event, it’s a real pity that this foot and mouth business seems to have come at just the wrong time," 31-year-old O ‘Sullivan said of the decision to switch venues.

"But athletics is not the only sport affected, with international rugby matches being called off and the horse racing badly affected.

"What we must remember is that it is just sport - with foot and mouth, many farmers’ livelihoods could be affected, so the officials in Ireland had to be very cautious."

It seems unlikely this weekend that O’Sullivan will seek to match her famous double-victory from 1998, when she won both the eight-kilometre "long" race on the Saturday and then ran and won the new, four-kilometre short-race on the Sunday in Marrakech, Morocco, the first time that the shorter event had been included on the World Cross-country programme.

Instead, O’Sullivan will probably just compete in Sunday’s 4km race in Ostend, hopeful that she will be able to utilise the track speed that she has been working on while training and racing in Australia this winter, and honing further at the recent IAAF World Indoor Championships in Lisbon.

O’Sullivan shocked many observers in Lisbon when she ran in both the 3,000 and 1,500 metres, four demanding races in three days which some suggested - including the defending champion Gabriela Szabo - was an impossible double.

Yet O’Sullivan defended her decision, saying that she needed more racing opportunities, and pointing to her Irish indoor record of 8min 44.37sec for seventh place in the thrilling 3000m final, won by Russia’s Olga Yegorova.

"The world indoors was really just a means to the end - to sharpen up for the world cross-country," O’Sullivan said. "I’d dearly love to win the cross-country title again."