Scintillating run clinches gold for Britton

by Eoghan Cormican

Fionnuala Britton achieved glorious redemption for last year’s heartbreaking fourth place finish when claiming the gold medal at last weekend’s European Cross-Country championships in Velenje, Slovenia.

Not since Catherina McKiernan’s victory in the inaugural event in 1994 has an Irish athlete won Europe’s top prize, with Sonia O’Sullivan and Mary Cullen’s fourth placing in 2003 and ’08 coming closest.

Britton’s demeanor in crossing the line was a million miles removed from the dejected figure she cut in Albuferia twelve months previous where she was clearly aggrieved to have been outgunned by Turkey’s Binnaz Uslu who had previously served a two year ban for failing a drugs test.

Driven by the frustration of that race where she faded from the medals in the concluding stages, Britton threw down the gauntlet as early as the second lap to lead a breakaway group containing Portugal’s Ann Dulce Felix (bronze medalist in 2010) and Italy’s Nadia Ejjafini.

Prior to the event, Fionnuala Britton’s coach Chris Jones had warned that Ejjafini – a Moroccan who declared for Italy in 2009 – was the one to watch, but neither Ejjafini nor Felix could match Britton’s smooth rhythm and taking the bell, the Kilcoole athlete had a two second advantage over UK athlete Gemma Steel who had worked her way through the field.

Over the final lap however, Steel was unable to make any inroads on the Irish singlet in front as Britton extended her lead to break the tape in a time of 25.55 with Felix getting up to take the silver ahead of Steel.

Britton was an Irish champion at a young and despite US scholarship offers, chose to avail of one at DCU where she graduated with a degree in Sports Science in 2007 to which she added a masters last month.

A silver medalist at European U23 level five years ago, Britton is already qualified for next summer’s Olympic Games in the 3,000 meters steeplechase.

Despite a hugely impressive 14th place finish at the 2007 World Cross countries, Britton switched coaches to Chris Jones, while also receiving assistance from DCU athletics director Enda Fitzpatrick and the progress under her new support group is evident in the string of lifetime bests she set on the track this summer culminating with Sunday’s scintillating run.

Speaking after the race, Britton said: “I can hardly believe it. After last year, this is the only medal I wanted. In a way it’s been on my mind all year.”

In the men’s race, former DCU student Joe Sweeney ran a terrific race to finish in fifth place.

Sweeny was in second place approaching the bell, but was unable to maintain a medal position through a punishing last lap.




Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.