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O’Sullivan sidelined for Balmoral by chest infection - Mourhit to run

O’Sullivan sidelined for Balmoral by chest infection - Mourhit and Wolde to run
Steven Downes for IAAF

7 April 2001 - London – Sonia O’Sullivan, Ireland’s double European champion, has been forced to pull out of next Saturday’s Balmoral international road races in Scotland. The continuing ill-health of the Olympic 5000 metres silver medallist is beginning to cause serious concern, and might yet threaten her track season, where she had planned to challenge for the IAAF 5000m world title in Edmonton.

O’Sullivan was to have taken part in the low-key South of England road relays at Milton Keynes on April 7, as a tune-up for next week’s Scottish show-down over five miles (about 8km) against the two new IAAF World Cross-country champions, England’s Paula Radcliffe and Gete Wami of Ethiopia.

But a decision was reached in midweek by the runner and her coach, Alan Storey, that she is not in any sort of shape to compete at all.

After returning from four months’ hard training in Australia last month, O’Sullivan, aged 31, caught what she at first thought was a cold. She hardly ran at all in the two weeks before her abortive attempt to help the Irish team in the World Cross-country Championships in Ostend, and until last Tuesday, she had not run a step since.

In the meantime, O’Sullivan has embarked on another course of antibiotics in an attempt to shift her troublesome chest infection, and her doctor has even prescribed an inhaler to help her breathing, the first time in her life that the runner from Cobh has had to use such a device.

"Sonia’s simply not very well," Storey said from Spain, where he is attending the European 10,000 metres Challenge track event near Bilbao.

"She has not managed to shake off the chest infection which she had when she tried to run in Ostend, and so she has been seeking medical help to resolve the problem. I don’t want to sound like someone from Railtrack, but normal training will be resumed as soon as possible."

Storey said that he did not think that the illness would necessarily affect O’Sullivan’s chances at the track World Championships in the summer. "If she’s going to go through these sort of traumas, now is as good a time as any, with the cross-country season and the indoor season over.

"We will be more concerned, obviously, with every week that passes if Sonia has not been able to get back to proper training."

O’Sullivan, the winner of the 5000 and 10,000 metres at the 1998 European Championships, was a key player in the drama that the organisers were trying to construct to be played out with Queen Elizabeth II’s Scottish country castle as a backdrop.

Radcliffe set a world best for five miles on the course in 1999, with 24min 47sec, and O’Sullivan came within two seconds of that time in winning the event last year. Throw Wami, the short-course winner at the World Cross, into the mix, and you might have had a potent combination.

"They are three of the greatest middle distance runners in the world," race director Peter Elliott had been able to boast. "Weather permitting, I think we will again see something special."

With Radcliffe said to be in the best shape of her life, breaking her own world best might still be a possibility. Radcliffe was racing in Spain on Saturday where she was expected to attack the European 10,000m record of 30:13.74 set by Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen in 1986.

The women’s event at Balmoral has tended to overshadow the men’s races in the day-long televised festival of road running.

But the presence of three African-born world stars in the men’s five-mile race this year could radically alter that.

Mohammed Mourhit, the Belgian who retained the World Cross-country title in Ostend, is the real coup for the organisers. Lined up against Million Wolde, the Olympic 5000 metres gold medallist, and his Ethiopian team mate, Assefa Mezegebu, bronze medal-winner at 10,000m at the Sydney Games, ought to ensure that Royal Deeside witnesses racing fit for the location.