Sunday 19 May 2019

A marathon effort from McCormack

Fionnuala just outside the top ten in Boston

Fionnuala McCormack, who was the top European in the Boston Marathon on Sunday
Fionnuala McCormack, who was the top European in the Boston Marathon on Sunday

Brendan Furlong, sports reporter

Only six months after giving birth to a daughter, Fionnuala McCormack finished the top European in the Boston Marathon on Sunday last.

The Kilcoole athlete took a huge step forward on the road to the Tokyo Olympics with an excellent 11th place finish with a time of 2:30.38 carving 44 seconds off her lifetime best.

McCormack fell just six seconds short of a top ten finish, the result she had been craving given it would have meant automatic qualification for the 2020 games.

The race came just six months after McCormack gave birth to her daughter Isla and was her first marathon since the Rio Olympics in 2016.

While she came up just shy of Olympic qualification, her time, coupled with the bonus points she received for 11th place, will slingshot her up the world rankings, introduced this year as an additional qualifying method.

If McCormack can post one decent half marathon or marathon result in the next 14 months or run below the time standard of 2:29.30 she will secure a spot at her fourth Olympic games.

Just over a fortnight ago she finished a superb 18th in the World Cros-Country in Denmark and when it comes to the marathon her best days look to be ahead.

McCormack relished her return to cross-country.

This was McCormack at her best, fast, fluent and fighting through a stiff course to the bitter end.

She had to be all of those things, as the organisers of the event in Aarhus, Denmark, constructed the most challenging course in the event's history with mud pits, sand pits, water pools and a succession of rolling hills.

In the end McCormack showed all her experience as she turned in one of her best runs since her return to athletics following the birth of her child.

Six months, after giving birth, here she was, not just back but producing a calibre of performance that no one in her spikes had any real right to find.

She finished 18th in the senior women's race, just four places down on her best ever showing and the second non-African across the line, with Danish heroine Anna Moller finishing 15th and Hellen Obiri of Kenya taking the gold medal.

'We all know how much I love cross-country,' said McCormack.

'They build it up to something brilliant and they pulled it off. The crowds were unbelievable.'

Having missed 2018 while pregnant, McCormack relished this return to the international scene, fighting through the field over the latter half.

'I was saying to myself that the top 25 is what I wanted, but in the race itself I wanted top 15, so I'm a little disappointed I didn't get it.'

With runners dropping like bowling pins after they crossed the line, McCormack was one of the few left standing, a measure of her capacity to endure.

'It was real cross-country,' she said.

This was McCormack's second best placing after Bydgoszez in Poland in 2013, where she finished 14th and top European overall.

McCormack added: 'It felt longer than 10k but it was a good test and it was good fun. It's great to run a race where times don't matter and the World Cross-Country is still a great event. Maybe some years, not as much as others, but it's great to be part of it.'

The hope is that McCormack will be still running when the European Cross-Country comes to Dublin in 2020, where another performance like this would bring high praise and reward.

Wicklow People