Saturday 25 May 2019

Fionnuala Britton has 'Cross' to bear ahead of Euro hat-trick bid

Fionnuala Britton
Fionnuala Britton

Cliona Foley

WHILE others were still enjoying the hospitality at Athletics Ireland's annual awards on Wednesday, Fionnuala Britton slipped out of the hotel in her running gear for her second training session of the day.

She couldn't afford any break because her final prep race before defending her European Cross-Country title is in France on Sunday.

Britton (right) is chasing an unprecedented third European Cross- Country title in a row in Belgrade on December 8 and the 'Cross de l'Acier' is a top-class international race that she has used as a tune-up for the last two years.

On both occasions she was third, with only two Ethiopians ahead of her and that is the sort of form she will be hoping to demonstrate again.

One interesting development ahead of the Europeans is that another African-born athlete has switched nationalities in time to compete.

Sifan Hassan is an Ethiopian who moved to the Netherlands five years ago as a 15-year-old refugee. She won the 1,500m at the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting last summer and was second behind Abeba Aregawi in Lausanne.

Hassan has some significant track times, with personal bests of 2.00.86 (800m), 4:03.73 (1,500m) and 8:32.53 for 3,000m. She has run three cross-country races this season and will compete in the Dutch championships this weekend.

However, all of her recent races have been over 6km and the Europeans are over 8km, so she may opt to compete in the U-23 event in Belgrade. Ethiopian-born Almenesch Belete declared for Belgium last year and she was expected to challenge Britton but the longer distance and frozen conditions in Budapest didn't suit her and she finished only fourth.

The numbers of African athletes switching nationalities in the past decade is a contentious issue, especially when it occurs particularly close to a competition.

Abeba Aregawi famously got Swedish citizenship in June 2012 and the Swedes claimed she should have run for them at the London Olympics but she competed there for her native Ethiopia. She was cleared by the IAAF to run for Sweden last December and went on to win the world 1,500m title for her adopted country in Moscow in the summer.

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