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Cork City Sports Still Happy Home for Sonia O'Sullivan

7 July 2004

In a way the Cork City Sports are the only thing still consistent in Sonia
O'Sullivan's career. Ever since she first flaunted that great talent here
as a 17-year-old, O'Sullivan has never run badly on her home ground. Now,
more than ever, Cork helps keep her confidence intact, the last outpost of
certainty along her long and winding roads to glory.

Take Saturday's victory in the 5,000 metres. Just six days after the leaden
run in Gateshead, the dial that is measuring her form in the countdown to
the Athens Olympics shifted away from red. It wasn't a gold-rush
performance, but it certainly keeps the dream alive.

What is now clear is that we won't be convinced of O'Sullivan's true
Olympic prospects until the Games themselves. From here she goes to Madrid
for some training and some heat, taking in a 3,000-metre race on Saturday
week. She'll probably run the Zurich Golden League on August 6th, but we're
unlikely to see her in another world-class 5,000 metres before Athens.

But that dial will have to keep rising if she is to be a medal contender on
the night of August 23rd.

Cork, she later explained, was treated like an Olympic qualifying heat:
doing enough on the day but testing areas that will matter when things
count. Like running her last lap in 65.7 seconds, and the last 200 metres
in a fraction over 30 seconds.

"Well, I came here very relaxed," she said, "and that's when I run my best.
So I just have to bring that with me now wherever I go from here, and treat
things like a hard training run. But a lot of it is just about passing the
time now. I don't really need to get much fitter. It's just about
sharpening up a little."

The silver medallist from Sydney controlled things throughout. Alena
Samokhvalova of Russian pressed the pace from before halfway, but with four
laps remaining O'Sullivan surged ahead. The Russian chased in vain,
finishing 18 seconds down. Yet O'Sullivan still finished with real
conviction, and her time of 15:15.95 was comforting under the unseasonable
conditions.

"I was a bit surprised to see the Russian going so fast," she added. "But I
felt very relaxed, and decided I'd pass her and see what happens. I had
decided to run that last 200 metres as fast as I could. And today was
partly about reminding myself it was still there, because I haven't been
practising it too much.

"And that's what I do need to work on over the next few weeks. But I
definitely feel the speed is still there. That wasn't the fastest yet, but
it's getting there."

It's just over six weeks now before O'Sullivan wants to hit that peak in
Athens, but she's being careful not simply to repeat the final countdown to
Sydney. And it's worth recalling that four years ago her form was equally
zigzagging.

"The training I've been doing is similar. But you try not to compare too
much, because circumstances change, and it's very difficult to try to
repeat what you did before."

It's also good to see O'Sullivan's running partners running well, which
indicates a positive mindset in the Nic Bideau training camp. And Craig
Mottram looked superb in the 1,500 metres, especially the way he took off
over the last 300 metres, winning in 3:41.60. Colin Costello, still a
junior, was in front at the bell and finished best of the Irish, seventh,
in 3:46.52.

Earlier there was a beautifully timed run by Freda Davoren in the 1,500
metres. The Kerrywoman ran bravely and deserved her win, in 4:13.43. But
she only just held off the fast-finishing Rene Kalmer of South Africa.
Sinéad Delahunty looked her old self in fifth (4:14.25).

There was a true international feel to the men's 800 metres, and the hope
too that James Nolan could bring another home victory. The tactics didn't
help, but a class apart anyway was Glody Dube of Botswana, seventh in
Sydney, who clocked 1:48.66.

Nolan looked a little strained to run 1:50 for seventh, but he was using
the race to prepare for a fast 1,500 metres in Lausanne tomorrow.

"To be honest, that my hamstring didn't tear is the only good thing out of
that," he said. "It's been causing big problems in the last few weeks. If I
can just get rid of that pain I'll be fine."

Adrian O'Dwyer as usual entertained the crowd in the high jump, clearing
2.21 metres before progressing to attempt 2.31 - which would have improved
his recent Irish record. For now though that was a leap too high.

Gary Ryan stood next to the barrier of the Mardyke track, the sweat on his
face diluted by rain, his heart still racing. Moments earlier he'd kicked
that barrier in frustration. Two fine sprint victories, and yet still he
hasn't found what he's looking for.

The wet track and the cool chill had added to his task, so it was hardly
surprising when his 20.78 seconds winning time over 200 metres fell short
of the 20.59 needed for Athens. Earlier, Ryan had won the 100 metres in
10.35, equalling the Irish record held by Paul Brizzel. But with the Irish
deadline for Olympic qualification closed as of midnight on Saturday, it
seemed like the end of the road.

But only yesterday came the first test of that deadline. At a meeting in
California, Nicky Sweeney - already a veteran of three Olympics - threw the
discus 64.12 metres, just beyond the 64 metres needed for Athens.

Sweeney (38), who has a best of 67.89 from five years ago, came out of
retirement this season with that goal in mind and should now find himself
selected.

Ryan meanwhile is chasing his third Olympics. "Things have been coming
together the last week or so," said the 32-year-old. "June was almost
totally written off because of injury. And I just haven't had the bit of
luck. But I think I tried too hard today, especially because of the
conditions."

Ryan will press on regardless, hoping the Olympic Council of Ireland might
still see some sense in his quest. "It's more about my own pride now. I've
worked very hard for it, and at this stage of my career I want to deliver
on the things that I should have done in the past.

"I've spent a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of effort trying to do
things right. And I will still prepare for the next few weeks with Athens
on my mind.

"But the fact is the standards are ridiculously high now, and if someone
achieves it, I think we should be rewarding them. Otherwise what's the
point of the sport? You may as well shoot it dead, and let the Tim
Montgomerys of the world take it over."

Ryan was pressed hard for the 200-metre win by Paul Hession, another of the
half dozen or so athletes still within touching distance of qualification.

But the 400 metre hopefuls aren't enjoying the best of times, with Rob
Daly's 47.29 when taking third well short of the 45.55 needed. And at
another meeting, in San Sebastian, Gareth Turnbull (1,500 metres) and Karen
Shinkins (400 metres) fell well short of their desired times.

So for now then, the number of Irish athletes heading to Athens stands at
14 - with the team due to be named on Wednesday.


With thanks to Ian O'Riordan of the Irish Times
 

Disclaimer - The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AAI


 

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