Saturday 16 December 2017

Pure Gold


MARK KENNEDY Sports reporter

ICE-COOL Fionnuala Britton made athletic history in snow-blanketed Budapest on Sunday last as she froze out an impressive field to win the European cross-country race in brilliant fashion.

In breasting the tape ahead of wellfancied runners, the Wicklow wonder powered her way into the athletic history books by becoming the first lady to win consecutive titles in the event.

Furthermore, Fionnuala led Ireland's women's team to the winner's podium also, thus picking up two gold medals as confirmation of her present standing of one of Ireland's leading female athletes at the present time.

And it was revealed on Monday that Britton is one of the nominees for RTE's sports personality of the year along with Bray boxer Katie Taylor, who has been given the honour of being ambassador for amateur boxing in the lead-up to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

This double delight on the snowclad course outside Budapest comes as a smashing finale that has seen the Kilcoole lass represent Ireland in the London Olympics in August after securing 'A' level qualifying times in three events - the steeplechase and the 5,000 and 10,000 flat track races.

Her preparations for the Olympics built up her body strength and stamina no end, and despite her small physical stature she powered her way to victory and led the field virtually from pillar to post at the weekend.

Unfazed by a glitch on their journey out, with the plane having to be rerouted to Vienna because Budapest was shut down by electrical problems and necessitated a bus trip instead, Britton took the initiative from the start and was never outside the top three for the whole of the race.

As the defending champion she was the target of all the other runners but she never flinched from the challenge, front running from gun to tape as she gave a demonstration of athletic prowess that was pure Hungarian rhapsody in freezing conditions so severe that they threatened the staging of the race at one stage.

Running from the front from early on, Britton burned off the challenge of Holland's Adrienne Herzog to set up a battle royal with Portugal's Ana Dulce Felix, who has been a great rival of the Kilcoole lass over the years.


Felix had dropped back to sixth place at one stage in the race before coming with a searing surge in the closing stages, chasing down Britton with the finish line in sight and making for a nail-biting and gripping finale to the race.

Britton emptied the tank and gave it her all and the question was, was it enough for her to hold on as Felix went for the jugular?

She was encouraged every step of the way by the Irish contingent who were screeching 'she's behind you, she's behind you'.

Fionnuala had both the presence of mind and the experience not to waste time looking behind to see who was on her tail.

That would have meant losing valuable time and sending the wrong message to Felix that she was tiring and there for the taking.

Instead her focus remained on getting to the top of that last hill and then holding on in the run down to the line. At the line she had two seconds to spare on Felix, finishing the eight kilometers race in 27 minutes, 45 seconds.

'I did have a race plan and I did stick to it,' she said. 'I didn't know if I'd be able to hold opponents off down that hill to the finish because I knew that there were faster finishers than me.'

'So I knew that I needed to get over that last hill in first place and then hang on as long as possible,' Britton enthused. ' Coming down the last few hundred metres, all the Irish support was unbelievable, but I could hear the panic in their voices.'

Fionnuala's winning performance also played a huge part in Ireland taking the team gold as well.

A team gold for Ireland was unexpected but well deserved. The next three Irish women home were Linda Byrne (DSD) in eighth place, Ava Hutchinson (DSD) in 20th position, and Lizzie Lee (Leevale) in 23rd.

With the best four team members to count, this left Ireland tied with France on 52 points, but they took gold on the count back, based on their last runner having the better position.

The two remaining members of the Irish women's team, Sarah McCormack (Clonliffe) and Sarah Treacy (Moynalvey), finished 36th and 42nd respectively.

'When I crossed the line I could hardly believe it,' said Britton, ' and then when I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that we had won the team it was the best feeling ever'.

'To stand on the podium and sing the national anthem twice in the space of ten minutes is an unbelievable feeling.'

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