Wednesday 22 May 2019

Sonia running the rule for Ireland

Sonia O'Sullivan, pictured here at last year's event, will once again start the children's race at the Spar Great Ireland Run in the Phoenix Park on April 10.
Sonia O'Sullivan, pictured here at last year's event, will once again start the children's race at the Spar Great Ireland Run in the Phoenix Park on April 10.

Cliona Foley

An Olympic silver medallist and former World and European champion will be among those taking part in a fun-run in London on Sunday morning - but Sonia O'Sullivan has a particularly good reason for being there.

The big selling point of the Newham London 10km is that three kilometres of the course winds through the burgeoning Olympic Park in Stratford.

As Chef de Mission for Team Ireland in 2012, and with the Olympics now just 490 days away, O'Sullivan is keen to see how the site is progressing.

"When I was there last (in September) they had the big ring completed around the top of the main stadium and apparently the pool and velodrome are now finished," she explained.

"I'm hoping to get a bike and have a good look around it afterwards to help me really get my bearings."

O'Sullivan (41) splits her year between her homes in Melbourne and London these days.

Her children Ciara (11) and Sophie (9) used to do the same, but, with Ciara starting secondary school next year, they are spending their first full school year in Australia this season.


Nonetheless, the business of athletics will bring O'Sullivan and her husband Nic Bideau back and forth across the world as usual, not least because of her onerous new role as Ireland's Olympic team leader.

Sonia will be home next week for a day-long series of intensive meetings with the 'performance managers' of all of Ireland's Olympic sports and she will return again on April 10 to start the children's race at the Spar Great Ireland Run in the Phoenix Park.

"I'd actually love to run in the senior race, but doing television commentary means I can't, so I'll probably join in with the kids race," she said.

Yes, O'Sullivan may have hung up her racing spikes, but never the runners.

She's actually training daily right now after setting her sights on breaking three hours while running for charity in the Cork Marathon in June.

"I've just got back in touch with my old coach Alan Storey, I need a target, otherwise I'd just be going out jogging," she quipped, an unlikely scenario given her legendary competitive streak.

Eyebrows have been raised again at the Olympic Council of Ireland's (OCI) insistence that track and field athletes must get the 'A' standard to qualify for London, but O'Sullivan has no problems with that.

"If athletes think they can qualify with an 'A' or a 'B' standard they are more likely to settle for the lower one," she argued.

"For our top athletes, 'A' standard won't be a problem anyway, because that's what they are doing for World Championships this year."

O'Sullivan suspects that next year's Olympic track standards (not yet released) could actually be easier than those for this year's Worlds, which are particularly high as the IAAF tries to tighten up its schedule.

But, as ever, she believes in reaching for the highest bar possible and is adamant that London's geographical proximity will help Irish athletes in 2012.

"Travel-wise and weather-wise, it is a huge advantage for us," she stressed.

"There'll be no jet-lag; our athletes won't have to (go) away to training camps or acclimatise; they can stay in their own environment for as long as they want before competing and their routines won't be disturbed.

"Some of the best races in my career were in Crystal Palace when I took the train up beforehand."

Sonia's new role has given the four-time Olympian a steep learning curve.

Weather delays and race cancellations meant meeting up with talented Irish 'Laser' sailor Annalise Murphy when she was competing in Melbourne before Christmas wasn't as simple as she first imagined.


For someone so long focused on a track and a stopwatch, she has had to learn the intricacies of supporting sports as varied as judo and modern pentathlon.

"So far we've been concentrating on planning and meeting the high performance managers and it's been a lot of phone calls and emails," she said.

With an early qualification mark set in road-racing, Cork walker Robert Heffernan became the first Irish athlete to officially qualify last week and the rest of Ireland's hopefuls will spend the next 18 months chasing the Olympic standard across the globe.

"We're still working with lists of probables and possibles," said O'Sullivan. "I really think it's only when we know who is on the team, who exactly will be representing us in London, that things will get really exciting for us all."

Irish Independent

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