Golden double as Sonia re-writes the record books
SONIA O'SULLIVAN'S rose gloriously from the ashes of a two year nightmare to strike gold on the double at the 26th IAAF World Cross-Country Championships here in Marrakech, Morocco.
The flying Irish star stole the show with back to back winning performances which almost defied the logic of physical demands especially under the intense 82 degrees heat.
This double victory by O'Sullivan makes the single greatest achievement by an Irish athlete in the annals of sport.
To win one world championship is a superb feat, to win two within such a short space of time may never again be equalled and one must go back to the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles for a comparable achievement when Bob Tisdall won the 400 m hurdles gold medal and an hourlater the late Dr Pat O'Callaghan retained his hammer title.
Yet how ironic that O'Sullivan should become our first woman's champion after four times silver medallist, Catherina McKiernan, decided to concentrate on the London marathon after winning 12 races in a row. Now Ireland have the two best women distance runners in the world.
Tricolours were waved on high as she added the 4,000 metres short course title to the longer and more established championship during an unforgettable hour of glory at high noon the previous day.
Having won a thrilling duel against Britain's Paula Radcliffe on Saturday, she showed the world she was a worthy champion by absolutely annihilating the field to win the 4k title as well by a massive margain of 14 seconds in 12 mins. 20 secs. from the local hero, Zohra Ouaziz.
It was magical beyond description to see O'Sullivan, a broad smile splitting her bronzed face, break the finishing tape, her arms high in the air in elation that she had come back from the scrapheap to prove she still has the class of a champion.
When asked how it compared to Saturday's victory O'Sullivan gave a little punch in the air and declared: ``It feels ten times better. I came here to win the World Cross-Country and it was split in two. I said I had to go for the toughest race which luckily took place first but having won that I knew the minute I crossed the line that I would have to come back out here and try to do it all over again.
``It is the hardest race in the world to win but having won that I felt a bit greedy and did not want to share it with anyone.
``In the end it was up to myself and all the time I wanted to do it because I felt very strong on Saturday and was well recovered an hour or two later.''
Her sense of joy was clearly understandable in light of her feat in taking on a field of fresh runners and beat them out of sight despite having the effects of a rigorous race in the legs from the previous day.
Yet, if anything, O'Sullivan looked stronger and even more dominant yesterday once she had closed down the early deficit after Dulecha and Ouaziz had opened lead in abid to break her.
It was quite extraordinary to see how O'Sullivan just floated over the red shale during the last kilometre, eating up the ground and drawing further and further ahead of her leg weary opponents.
``I never really sprinted and just seemed to pull away with very little effort and I just really enjoyed the long run into the finish and felt as if I could have run on and on ... ''
After her victory on Saturday many people advised O'Sullivan against running yesterday. So she just went away to her hotel and made up her mind that if she was feeling okay in the morning she would run.
``I felt all along that if I won the longer race and someone else came out and won the short race then there would be two champions and knew that I would have to come back out and prove that I was absolutely the best,'' she said.
She refrained from telling her coach in London, Alan Storey, that she was contemplating the double until she phoned him yesterday morning.
Yesterday O'Sullivan followed the same routine to Saturday, had the same breakfast, warmed up in the same way an even took the same seat in the pre-race tent. She admitted that she enjoyed the freedom of the smaller field but Dulecha and Ouaziz put it up to her with a fast 3 mins. 3 secs opening kilometre with O'Sullivan moving from 9th to 3rd at 1,500 metres.
``I felt that someone was always going to out hard and put me under pressure because that would be the only way they would make you tired. But I felt in control and knew that I would pick them up and then it was a question of remaining calm, doing nothing stupid and just biding my time.
``My head was working well today and kept saying, relax, relax and I would get there. Once I got up to the Ethiopian and we were running together it felt easy. I just wanted to keep going. I said to myself don't blow it. I got here now and I knew I would have the speed over the last 150 if need be but before I knew it I was away.