Sport

Fionnuala McCormack faces biggest challenges of long career

Fionnuala McCormack is in fine form ahead of two big races
Fionnuala McCormack is in fine form ahead of two big races Fionnuala McCormack is in fine form ahead of two big races

TWO-TIME European cross country champion Fionnuala McCormack faces what could be the most challenging eight days of her long career. 

The 39-year-old mother of three young daughters, all under four and the most recent arrival only a few months old, lines up for the Valencia Marathon on Sunday and seven days later hopes to take part in the European Cross Country in Brussels.

The Valencia Marathon is held on one of the fastest courses anywhere, with some of the best distance runners in the world listed to compete. The flat course, coupled with ideal weather conditions, has made the Spanish race an ideal location for records and qualifying times.

The Wicklow woman is reported to be in form to run 2:23/2:24 but has been advised by her team to adopt the more conservative target for Olympic qualification (2:26:50). If she feels she can run faster, there is the possibility of running London in the spring.

McCormack did not take part in the recent Irish Senior Women’s Cross Country Championship but did put her name down for the Euros. The course in Brussels is one of her favourites and she will don the Irish singlet for a record 18th appearance for a female athlete at the event.

McCormack, who won senior gold at the Euro Cross in 2011 and 2012, did a similar double two years ago when she ran a PB (2:23:58) at the Valencia Marathon on December 5, 2021 and seven days later finished fourth in the Euro championships at Abbotstown in Dublin.

McCormack has only made one competitive appearance this year, on October 22 when just 14 weeks after giving birth she finished 13th in the Valencia Half Marathon in 70.13, the fastest for the distance by an Irish woman this year. 

Ethiopian Olympians Tsehay Gemechu and Almaz Ayana are the top picks in the women’s race alongside Kenyan-born Romanian Joan Chelimo, the 2022 Seoul Marathon winner. 

Joshua Cheptegei will be the main attraction in the men’s race as the Ugandan steps up to the marathon distance after a stellar career on the track. Fellow Olympic and World gold medallist Kenenisa Bekele is the other big name among the men’s elite which also includes Kenya’s Alexander Mutiso, PB 2:03:29, and the experienced Ethiopian duo of 2021 London Marathon winner Sisay Lemma and Leul Gebresilase, the 2018 Valencia Marathon champion. 

Dundrum South Dublin athlete Tonosa Hiko makes his debut over the marathon distance and has the pedigree to go under 2:12.

The focus at home will be on the Joe Seeley 10K at Ormeau Park with a 1000 plus runners expected on the start line tomorrow afternoon. 

The men’s race would appear to be between Annadale Striders duo Neil Johnston and Paul Pollock while the women’s contest looks to be a more open affair with at least half a dozen athletes capable of lifting the top prize.

The National Novice and Uneven Age Group championships go ahead on Sunday at Navan Racecourse. 

Ulster athletes Anna Gardiner (U19), Emer McKee (U17), Caolan McFadden (U17) and Cathal O’Donnell (U19) should all claim podium places while Derry man Odhran O’Hare competes in the men’s Novice race in the colours of Dublin City Harriers with legitimate hopes of medalling.

The days of the Dublin Marathon starting and finishing in Merrion Square look numbered following the National Transport Authority expressing concerns on the duration of road closures required to set up and maintain the start/finish area on Merrion Square North.

Dublin City Council and the organisers have come together to consider viable options for next year’s event, preferably within the City centre.