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Athletics: Cullen desperate to emerge from nightmare period

Mary Cullen has better reasons than most to look forward to the Spar Great Ireland Run in the Phoenix Park on Sunday.

A month ago -- after two years of desperately bad luck and injury, which included breaking a collar-bone last winter in a fall off her bike while training -- the Sligo woman was about to relaunch her track career at the European Indoor Championships, where she had previously won a bronze medal in the 3,000m.

A week beforehand her sporting woes were put into perspective when her father suffered a heart attack and needed angioplasty. Then, on the eve of her heat in France, she got violently sick while out on a training run and was forced to pull out.

"I couldn't believe it was all happening," Cullen said. "It was devastating. I had a rough couple of weeks, but you just have to move on. Hopefully, there's a good day out there for me soon."

A quality athlete who won NCAA gold and bronze at 5,000m and 10,000m while on scholarship at Providence College, Cullen hasn't competed outdoors since the 2007 World Championships due to a combination of injury and illness.

Given that she had to take 10 days off training after that Paris setback, she fears Sunday's race may be coming a bit too soon for her, especially with such a world-class field that includes Ethiopian Berhane Adere (former world 10,000m and half-marathon champion), Hungary's Aniko Kalovics (former European cross-country bronze winner), rising British star Charlotte Purdue and the in-form Fionnuala Britton.

"The World Championships this summer are my big focus, but after everything that's happened, I'm really looking forward to getting out and racing," Cullen said of the race which also doubles up as the national 10km road championship.

Martin Fagan, who became the first Irish winner of the men's race last year, faces much stiffer competition this time as the field includes Ukraine's nine-time European cross-country champion Sergey Lebid, Portugal's Rui Silva, top Spaniards Jesus Espana and Juan Carlos de la Ossa as well as DSD's Joe Sweeney.

The senior race starts at 1.0, with the junior 2.5km (for five to 18-year-olds) scheduled for 11.15.

  • A complete list of the finishers and their times will be carried in Monday's Irish Independent

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