Sunday 22 April 2018

Fionnuala McCormack: I'm a little more cynical but that motivates you

Fionnuala McCormack says the recent scandals surrounding athletics haven’t diminished her love for the sport. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Fionnuala McCormack says the recent scandals surrounding athletics haven’t diminished her love for the sport. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

As she begins the countdown to her third Olympics, Fionnuala McCormack knows the innocence is gone, and it's not coming back.

Over the past year, doping and corruption scandals ripped through the heart of athletics, and McCormack watched it unfold with the knowing wisdom of an athlete who'd seen it - felt it - first-hand for years.

"People are way more cynical now, which is kind of sad, but it's probably close to right," she said. "I'm a little more cynical, but you get more cynical about things when you get older. It can motivate you because you think: 'maybe I'm better than I thought I was.'"


After a recent stint of altitude training in the US, the 31-year-old is back home and hoping to claim her first victory in the SPAR Great Ireland Run tomorrow, a 10km race which will see over 7,500 runners take to the roads in the Phoenix Park.

Looking back, it's not so much the medals McCormack missed out on due to doping as the championship finals that left her frustrated.

One prime example was the case of Turkey's Binnaz Uslu, who beat her into second place at the European U-23 Cross Country Championships in 2006 and tested positive a year later, only to return for the 2011 World Championships, winning her heat in a national record.

McCormack was the fastest athlete to miss out on the final.

"I was devastated," she said. "That was when it annoyed me more, because she shouldn't have been in the sport; she had been banned once, was obviously back on drugs again and she's banned for life now.

"It's things like that nobody really notices or sees because it's irrelevant (to the public).

"It's normal that an Irish athlete goes out in a semi-final and people think you're just not good enough, but now they see that's not necessarily the case."

The gold medallist in that final was Russian Yuliya Zaripova, who tested positive in retro-active tests.

Zaripova won't be eligible to compete in Rio, but McCormack expects that the Russian team - suspended by the IAAF in November after revelations of systematic doping - will be allowed back.

"The whole thing is such a mess that I can't see anyone standing up and saying 'you're out'. I just presume they're going to be back."

McCormack is currently qualified to compete in the 10,000m and marathon, but doing both appears a lofty goal with less than 48 hours between races.

"I don't know if it's possible," she said. "I'd love for it to be, but I need to look at what I really want to do when the team is picked or what would work best. At this point I can't say."

Despite the troubles in athletics, she's hopeful that hitting rock-bottom will prove a catalyst for deep-seated change. Four months out from her third Olympics, the innocence may be gone, but her love for the sport burns as strong as ever.

"It's not like you can't compete clean," she says. "(Rio) is a chance for athletics to be the sport in all sport. With all the scandals and everything, it's still the best sport in the Olympics."

Irish Independent

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