Bronze is beautiful for gutsy Britton
SHE has always been regarded as a marvellous mud-lark, but the speed and guts Fionnuala Britton showed when winning a European Indoor bronze medal finally proved she can mix it on the track.
The finishing kick the petite Wicklow star has developed over the last two seasons was critical in helping the two-time European cross-country champion nick Ireland's second medal in Gothenburg, both of them 3,000m bronze.
The legacy of some heartbreaking previous fourths was equally crucial in Britton's marvellously absorbing late dash.
Her final started dramatically – an unprecedented false start when some back-markers tripped and fell on the first bend, but that was nothing compared to the denouement, when Britton quickly moved up from fourth to get locked into a compelling three-way sprint for the minor medals with Germany's Corinna Harrer and Russia's Yelena Korobkina.
In the final few strides they were neck and neck and all dipped together, Britton getting up along the kerb.
Portugal's Sara Moreira, as expected, took gold in 8:58.50 but, after 15 laps of playing cat and mouse, Britton (9:00.54) only beat Korobkina (9:00.59) by five hundreths of a second, and Harrer (9:00.50) pipped her for silver by a similar margin, which gave her a few fleeting moments of regret.
"When we were all sprinting for it, I thought I might get second, so there's a little disappointment there that I didn't take silver, but then I could have come fourth," she said.
"When I got past the Russian, I thought, 'I'm going to get third here', and when she passed me again I thought, 'no way, I'm not coming fourth!'. That gave me any bit of kick I had there."
Twice before she had suffered fourth-place angst; at the 2010 European Cross-Countries and last summer's European 10,000m final.
Given that her primary focus is this month's World Cross-Countries, and that she'd run indoors less than a dozen times, this was a marvellous performance in a high-class race and she joked afterwards: "I like indoors. Maybe being small makes it easier to come around the bends."
The baby-faced 28-year-old has never looked her age, but her appearance belies the new steeliness and maturity she has developed under coach Chris Jones, which she showcased again yesterday.
What most athletes loved about Gothenburg was the fact that they were living in the same complex as the Scandinavium Arena, with the warm-up track downstairs in their hotel basement.
But Britton, typically, did her warm-up alone and outdoors yesterday, along a nearby canal.
"I don't like the idea of running around a 150m track eyeballing all the other people you're running against," she explained. "I just warmed-up the way I always do."
Finally winning a track medal had special significance, she acknowledged.
"I'm not stupid, I know that the track is where it's really at," she admitted. "This is basically a step towards the main event, which is outdoor track, and then the Olympics. They (cross-country and indoors) are all just stepping stones to where everybody in the sport wants to be."
Asked if last summer's European and Olympic performances had increased the worry that track success would always elude her she insisted: "No, I didn't feel that. I knew other people did and let them think what they want.
"I really love running and sometimes what people will say about you can get you down, but it doesn't get you down for long because you just want to get out and train harder to prove some people wrong.
"And, at the end of the day, it's more about enjoying it and doing it for what it is."
Her next big date is March 24, so will this latest medal be of benefit in Poland?
"It gives me more confidence definitely, but the World Cross-Country is fast from the gun to the finish," Britton stressed. "I won't know until I get there how much this will help me, but you definitely need speed in the World Cross-Country and it can't but help me."
The sight of an Irishwoman battling it out for a 3,000m medal certainly rekindled fond memories of Sonia O'Sullivan, and seeing Kilkenny's Ciara Everard (22) equalling her Irish record when sixth in the 800m final in 2:02.55 gave further hope that Ireland's great middle-distance reputation is being revived by a new female crew.
Now coached by James Nolan as one of UCD's scholarship programme, where she's a final-year physio student, Everard is flying after a horrendous bike accident last April.
She was fourth at the bell but then the Ukraine's World Indoor silver medallist Nataliya Lupu overtook her to sprint home to win in 2:00.26, and even Britain's defending champion Jenny Meadows could only finish fourth (2:01.52).
But matching her PB after three big races on her senior international debut left Everard delighted and confident that the new high-calibre 800m pack she currently leads is capable of breaking two minutes in the near future.
"Rose Anne (Galligan) ran 2:02.8 (in the semi-finals), and if the indoor season had been extended by two weeks we could have had three or four girls at this championship, so we're all pushing each other on," she said.
Amy Foster, the Lisburn pocket rocket who had reached the 60m semi-finals by equalling her season-best 7.33, couldn't improve on it, finishing seventh in 7:37 in an event in which 7.19 was needed to make the final, won by Bulgaria's Tezdzhan Naimova in 7.10.