Friday 24 November 2017

Atheltics: World-class support key for golden girl Britton

Fionnuala Britton is welcomed home at Dublin Airport last night by Kilcoole AC team-mate Deirdre McDermott
Fionnuala Britton is welcomed home at Dublin Airport last night by Kilcoole AC team-mate Deirdre McDermott
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

AS Fionnuala Britton powered her way to European glory in Slovenia on Sunday, her coach had to be content to watch the victory on television in Spain.

Chris Jones went to Aguilas last Friday to fulfil his day job. The quietly spoken Welshman is the high performance director of Triathlon Ireland and is currently overseeing warm-weather training for a group of their elite athletes, plus some others he individually coaches, including Mary Cullen.

And just like that of his new champion, Jones' phone has been in meltdown since Sunday afternoon, with many of the calls coming from international race organisers, who are all anxious to get Britton on to their cards.

However, there's no danger of this low-key duo losing the run of themselves. Yesterday, with a full day's travelling across Europe still ahead of her, Britton got in a run before her 7.45 breakfast.

That's par for the course -- last month, within minutes of receiving a Masters degree in sports science and health at Dublin City University, she rushed off to Santry Stadium to fit in a quick training session between her graduation ceremony and a celebratory lunch with her parents.


That is the sort of ascetic dedication and discipline that makes you a European champion, though Britton broke the habit of a lifetime and stayed dancing right to the very end of the usual post-championship athletes' banquet on Sunday night.

Britton (27) is second eldest in a sporty, close-knit family from Kilcoole -- a couple of miles from scenic Brittas Bay in Wicklow -- all six of whom, including mum Ellen and dad Eoin, ran this year's Great Ireland Run in the Phoenix Park together.

She joined Kilcoole AC when she was just seven "because my older sister Mary was joining" and was coached, from her early juvenile days, by John O'Toole and Pat Diskin in turn before changing to Jones a year ago.

When Athletics Ireland (AAI) was side-tracked by an embarrassing and costly internal court case in recent years, a vacuum was allowed develop in their own high performance area.

Jones was brought in as a consultant to formulate a five-year plan and while working full-time with triathletes, he's also well versed in the needs of all distance runners. And he says the key to Britton's breakthrough was "developing a world-class support system around her".

She already had some notable success, winning a silver medal at the U-23 European Cross-Country Championships in 2006 and finishing 12th the final of the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2007 World Championships while still coached by Diskin.

Britton explained yesterday that she switched coaches "because I felt I needed to do something new. I'd been working with Pat since I was 14."

Her career had stalled somewhat, despite going to Africa for three months in early 2010 to work with legendary Br Colm O'Connell from Mallow and the group of world-class Kenyans he trains at Iten.

Yesterday, Jones was quick to credit John Cleary, Karen Jones, Dr Brian Moore and Enda Fitzpatrick with their roles in her success. Cleary is the strength and conditioning coach at the Institute of Sport who works with Ireland's top boxers; Jones is a nutritionist with DCU, where Fitzpatrick is athletics coach; and Moore is a top haematologist who has worked with the likes of Paula Radcliffe, Mo Farah and the Oregon track club.

"Brian is a huge influence," Jones said. "He does all of Fionnuala's bloods and I get a call from him immediately if he spots that she is being over-reached in training. Enda is my eyes when I can't be at training sessions and he gives me great feedback on her workouts."

This time last year, after the heartbreak of finishing fourth at the European Championships, Britton went to South Africa for a block of warm-weather training.

This year, she has done two stints of altitude training at Font Romeu in the Pyrenees -- most recently three weeks in October -- where Radcliffe, among others, has a house.

Peaking at the right time after altitude training is notoriously tricky, but they obviously nailed it for Slovenia and Jones revealed yesterday that "Fionnuala responds particularly well to altitude training".

"Everything we had planned for the race itself she did it to the letter and I was incredibly proud of her," he added. "What I particularly like about Fionnuala is that she is so honest. It's great working with her."

And getting back to work is very much what Britton is planning to do.

Clearly overcome by the reception she received at Dublin Airport last night, Britton quickly dismissed any notion of a festive feet-up and is already looking forward to a run on Christmas Day.

Irish Independent

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