TWO-TIME EUROPEAN CROSS country champion Fionnuala Britton is competing the Spar Great Ireland Run at The Phoenix Park this afternoon. The Wicklow athlete is taking on Frenchwoman Sophie Duarte, among others, who took her cross country crown in Budapest last December.
Britton’s 2013 was disrupted by fatigue and a chest infection; virtually wiping her track season off the slate. She tells TheScore.ie she is ‘starting from square one’ again and trying to get up to speed for a tilt at the 10k title at the European Athletics Championships, in Zurich, this August. “When you win something,” she reasoned, “the only place you can come again is first, to be happy with yourself.”
“Because it is 10k, I am not going to run too many of them. I’ll probably do 5ks and 3ks and go from there, once I get the qualifying time,” she said. Having represented Ireland at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, Britton’s long-term goal is aiming for medals Rio 2016 but that, she adds, is a a hopeful dot on the horizon. “I’m a short-term person,” she said, “so I try to focus on where I’m at at the moment.”
Britton, when she is not chatting to RTE at triumphant, Dublin Airport homecomings, prefers to keep her head down and focus on her training. Along with Derval O’Rourke, she is the country’s most high profile female track star. In her civilian regalia, the 29-year-old could pass down most Irish streets unnoticed. That, however, is not the case in her home county. She said:
I think you get recognised from time to time as there are not that many lunatics running around, constantly, the same loops and the same areas. When you run on your own people might pick you out, which doesn’t happen as much if you run in groups… The funny ones, I find, are when you’re out for a run and go into a shop to pick up a bar of chocolate. Then someone walks by you and says you shouldn’t be eating that. I’m like ‘Hey!’”
“For runs,” she added, “I like to go home because I like the quietness, I suppose. It’s nice to be able to run in the country or along the beach but, for me, I’ll run anywhere. I like to find new spaces that I can run with my best buds. If I go anywhere new, it is something I love to do. It is a great way to get around and see new places. It’s so much quicker than walking or getting stuck in traffic, in cars.”
On Friday, Britton appeared at an event, promoting today’s run, in Dublin with cross country legends Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O’Sullivan. The worldwide achievements of both runners were not Britton’s catalyst for taking up the sport, she says, but both helped her immensely once she starting turning heads on the national, then international, circuit.
She declared, “I think that, without doubt, Sonia is the greatest Irish sportsperson we have ever had and I still don’t think she gets the recognition for it. People have arguments about different cases for different sports but, I feel, what she has done is unrivalled. I was listening to Newstalk recently and I was absolutely raging. They were talking about five people you’d have on a sporting Mt Rushmore and Sonia wasn’t automatically in the top five. I don’t know how you couldn’t have her there.”
She now finds herself as the poster-girl for Irish middle distance running and admits she is gradually getting used to the role. “If I can encourage anyone to take up the sport, or be a role model, that is a good thing but I’m not really that comfortable with it,” she said. “But it is a good thing.”
Sonia O’Sullivan: ‘People are out there killing themselves and not getting any acknowledgement for it’