Britton seeks to get on the front foot
ATHLETICS:SCANDINAVIA IN June. The bright sunshine and nightless nights and the perfect playground for a summer-fest of athletics. Yet somewhere between the shadow of the Olympics and the shortening of the calendar it seems some of the prestige of these European Championships has been lost.
That’s not saying they’re handing out the medals with any less demands.
Judging by the reaction of Christophe Lemaitre after the Frenchman defended his 100 metres title, and likewise Britain’s Mo Farah after the 5,000m, there’s nothing ordinary about the European titles being won here. Helsinki is not letting anything go soft.
And anyone who front-runs 25 laps of this old Olympic Stadium will definitely have earned theirs – which is the likely tactic, and goal, in the mind of Fionnuala Britton going into tomorrow’s 10,000m.
A straight final, naturally, what is certain is Britton won’t be waiting around for any sprint finish, not when her only way of winning this race will be from the front. It’s exactly what Britton felt going into the European Cross Country in Slovenia, last December – and she came away with the gold medal, having broken clear well before halfway.
Only 18 runners have declared for the final, and Britton is ranked the fastest of the lot this season with the 31:29.22 she clocked at the Stanford Invite meeting, in California, on April 29th, where she finished third, and more importantly on the night ran inside the London A-standard of 31:45.00.
How fast is 31:29.22? Almost as fast as the 31:29.33 Sonia O’Sullivan ran to win this European title in Budapest in 1998 – in what was actually her 10,000m debut.
Of the six other previous champions (including the inaugural winner Ingrid Kristiansen in 1986) Paula Radcliffe’s 30:01.09 in 2002 remains a class above, and if Britton can come close to her best tomorrow evening then a medal of some colour is a likely reward.
At age 27, and not only an older and wiser athlete than ever before but considerably more confident about her running, Britton probably won’t get a better chance to win this title. Her only fear, as she admits herself, is of the unknown, given her 31:29.22 was also her debut at the distance: there are some things she may yet have to learn about 25-lap running.
That’s one of the reason’s she has come to Helsinki: her primary target of the summer remains the 10,000m at the London Olympics (even though she’s also qualified in the 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase).
For the last few years Britton has been chasing the pack of elite women’s distance running; since winning the 2011 European Cross Country she’s capable of setting the pace, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Her 31:29.22 also moved her up to fourth on the Irish all-time list (behind O’Sullivan’s Irish record of 30:47.59, plus Catherina McKiernan and Marie McMahon), yet she admits there are components to 10,000m running she’s still not familiar with.