Britton makes it a hat-trick of December titles


THE IRISH TIMES/IRISH SPORTS COUNCIL SPORTSWOMAN AWARD:Wicklow woman impresses by taking gold in Slovenia and Hungary, writes MARY HANNIGAN

The lights have hardly been turned out after the ceremony for the 2012 Sportswoman of the Year awards – when Katie Taylor was chosen as overall winner for the third time, and Hall of Fame inductee Maeve Kyle captivated the audience with tales from her sporting career – but we’re off again.

Such was the quality of the achievements of the 12 women, from 11 sports – athletics, showjumping, rugby, hockey, horse racing, boxing, golf, sailing, swimming, camogie and Gaelic football – who were honoured in Dublin last month, it’s difficult to imagine it being possible that this year could even match last – especially with the Olympics taking a rest.

But our first monthly winner – we’re beginning our 2013 roll of honour with the award for December 2012 – has got us off to a rather spectacular start. Fionnuala Britton collects her third December award in a row after becoming the first woman to retain her European Cross Country title in the snow and ice of Budapest, conditions that made walking look tricky, never mind running at pace.

First silver

In December 2006 Britton won her first award when she took silver in the under-23 race at the European Cross Country Championships in Italy – the first medal success by an individual Irishwoman in the event since Catherina McKiernan triumphed in the inaugural senior race in 1994. Four years on and Britton finished fourth in the senior race in Portugal, given the same time as the runner in third. “I know I should have won a medal out there but you always learn from those experiences,” she said. And did she learn.

In December 2011 she put that experience to use by not just winning any old European Cross Country medal in Slovenia, but by taking gold. Having cracked the code, she did it again in Hungary last month. To complete what already looked like a perfect day, Britton joined Linda Byrne, Ava Hutchinson, Lizzie Lee, Sarah McCormack and Sara Treacy to win team gold for Ireland. Two trips to the victory rostrum. Two Amhrán na bhFianns in a few minutes. It was some day.

If we didn’t confine our sportswomen to one monthly award a year, the 28-year-old from Wicklow would be a contender again for the January honour having confirmed her class, once more, when she won the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country while the rest of us mere mortals were still sleeping off the turkey.

A wonderful end to 2012 and beginning to 2013 for Britton whose next major appointment is the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in March.

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