Athletics: Britton left to curse luck after agonising fourth
IRELAND'S ecstasy at landing an unexpected U-23 gold -- through the men's team -- was tempered somewhat by the manner in which Fionnuala Britton was pipped for bronze in the senior women's race.
Fourth is always the loneliest place in sport and while the gold medal of local darling Jessica Augusto was never in doubt, the 26-year-old from Wicklow was in contention for one of the minor medals throughout and only crossed the line just two strides behind Portugal's bronze medallist Dulce Felix. Both athletes were given the same time and there is no doubt that Britton's heartbreak was made even worse because Turkey's silver medallist was the same athlete who beat her for gold in the U-23 race in Italy four years ago and subsequently failed a drugs test.
Binnaz Uslu served a two-year doping ban from March 2007 and only moved past Britton yesterday to take up third place at the bell.
They actually swapped positions twice in a terrific cat-and-mouse tussle over the next 1000m, which ultimately ended in heartbreak for the Sli Cualann Olympian.
Britton's (right) immediate reaction -- bursting into tears and sobbing, "It's not fair, it's not fair!" -- spoke volumes, yet once she regained her composure, she showed remarkable magnanimity. Asked if she felt that athletes like Uslu, who have been caught cheating, should get life bans, the Olympic steeple-chaser replied: "No, I think everyone deserves a second chance.
"You don't know why they did it, or who told them to do it, or where they're coming from, so it's not up to me to judge other people.
"If I'd beaten her, I wouldn't care, all I wanted was a medal and it didn't really matter who was in front of me."
Her fourth place still equalled Ireland's second best individual senior result, but, like Sonia O'Sullivan in 2003 and Mary Cullen in 2008, she too missed a medal by just fractions. However, Britton resolved not to lose heart. "European cross-countries come around every year, that was my eighth one, and I'm not giving up yet. I'm going to keep going until I get that medal," she said with a baleful smile.
Leevale's Lizzy Lee (35th) was Ireland's next finisher. Defending champion Hayley Yelling was only 28th, last year's bronze medallist Adrienne Herzog failed to finish, and European 1,500m champion Nuria Fernandez, whose coach Manuel Pascua was arrested in last week's big Spanish anti-doping sting, was 16th.
Portugal romped to team gold, 46 points ahead of Britain and Spain in a repeat of last year's placings.