Athletics: Anguish for Britton after falling short
She has never given anything less than her all and Fionnuala Britton did so once more yesterday in the final of a punishing 10,000m at the European Athletics Championship -- and finishing just outside the medals simply added to the anguish of the Wicklow woman.
She led the field for 12 of the 25 laps and was still in front until Dulce Felix, the 29-year-old Portuguese star, hit the front with a massive change of pace after halfway to open a 35m lead and go on to protect most of it and score a fully merited victory in 31:44.75.
Then it was left to a small chasing pack to fight it out for the minor medals and here Britton was again in the thick of things, doing everything to get into her own stride, but just couldn't break those around her, with Britain's Joanne Pavey getting up for the silver at the expense of Olha Skrypak of Ukraine.
So the big-hearted Irish runner was left to come down the home straight an isolated and lonely-looking fourth, making one last effort to pick up a few more fractions to finish in 32:05.54.
There is no consolation or place to hide when you finish fourth in a race like this, moreover after given so much, but she could not be faulted because she did everything right and everything in her power to get a place on the podium.
Over the last 12 months Britton has made many adjustments to become a better athlete and together with her coach Chris Jones, she put in the type of training that was as good as any of those who finished ahead of her.
"It's very disappointing, but I just couldn't have run any faster or given any more," Britton said afterwards. She will now go back into the Olympic Stadium in London and give yet more still in the same event.
The pressure was on Britton in that as European cross-country champion she was seen as the one most likely to take the bull by the horns and cut out the pace up front. She waited for a few laps but at 2,000m she took it up and looked to be comfortable striding out in front.
But all the time Felix was lurking right behind together with a few others and it was clear that 15:59 at 5,000m was just not fast enough to break the resistance of the others. And 1,000m later, that came to pass when Felix kicked to the front and in the space of half a lap had ripped that leading pack apart.
Two laps later, Britton had worked her way back up to the front of the chasing group of four, but by now Felix had taken a breather to get herself ready for a late rush to the line and was looking over her shoulder for dangers.
The winning time of 31:44.75 was nothing to write home about and 15 seconds slower than Britton's best, but this was a championship race and times are irrelevant. Pavey, who seems to be around for years, did well to take second but now Britton will have reason to look back on 2012 with a lot of pride and she is sure to be an even better athlete come London.
By any standards the exploits of the Irish on Saturday were below par, with different athletes failing to cut the mustard, while others came up short in their challenge for podium places.
That included the ever-consistent Paul Hession in the final of the 200m, where he was badly handicapped by having to race in lane one.
He finished last of the eight finalists in 21.27, but he really gave it everything, tearing into that bend and pushing himself totally down the finishing straight and only lost seventh place in the last lunge. "I didn't run badly, but it was good to get another race and these all help in my preparations for the Olympics," said Hession.
Possibly the biggest surprise was the failure of the women's 4x400m relay team of Clare Bergin, Joanne Cuddihy, Marian Heffernan and Michelle Carey to make the final. They combined well, but were relegated to fifth place with a time of 3:32.43 which left them just a second short of making the final before word came through that they had been disqualified.
The women are still in with a great chance of qualifying for London but the same cannot be said of the men after the best efforts of Brian Murphy, David Gillick, Tim Crowe and Jason Harvey also suffered the embarrassment of being disqualified.
Mark Kenneally finished in 15th place in the 10,000m in a time of 29:10.55, but he wasn't happy with his performance either. Stephanie O'Reilly was disappointed with the slow early pace in the steeplechase and had to be satisfied with 12th place in 9:53.90.