Final showdown proves Britton now firmly on track for greater things
Ireland's Fionnuala Britton dips on the line to win the bronze medal in the 3,000 metres yesterday. photograph: pa wire
Despite all her success over cross country, or perhaps because of it, some of us still wondered if Fionnuala Britton had what it takes to win medals on the track, that when it came to the final showdown, would she ever be there.
Truth is there was a time when she would have struggled to kick her way out of a paper bag, as we say in running parlance, but if what makes a great athlete is the elimination of all weaknesses then Britton is fast becoming one of the best distance runners Ireland has ever produced, no matter what the surface.
The European Indoor bronze medal she won here yesterday over 3,000 metres – a sweet accessory to her recent back-to-back gold medals in the European Cross Country – perfectly illuminates that case: Britton didn’t win it by chance and certainly not without some seriously impressive track speed that left several of the so-called big kickers in her wake. It was the first major medal she’s ever won on the track, and judging by her reaction afterwards, won’t be her last.
“I’m not stupid, I know the track is where it’s really at,” Britton told us, politely, firmly, when pressed on the matter. “And all through the cross country season I said it, that this is basically a step towards the main event of our sport, which is outdoor track, and the Olympics, where everybody in the sport wants to be, basically.”
Indeed just seven months ago, at the London Olympics, running only her third ever 10,000m on the track, Britton found herself lapped by some of the leading Africans, and so the doubters were ushered back in: “Well no, I didn’t feel that. I know other people did, and let them think what they want. I really love running, and sometimes what people will say about you can get you down. But it doesn’t get you down for long, because you just want to get out and train harder, prove some people wrong, but at the end of the day it’s more about enjoying it, doing it for what it is.”
That’s the sort of attitude Britton has fostered since her earliest days of running, around Kilcoole, but now aged 28, and with a steel edge about her deftly reinforced by her coach Chris Jones, the confidence and courage is suddenly soaring. It’s what ultimately got her across the line in third, just .05 of a second ahead of the Russian Yelena Korobkina, who although four seconds quicker on paper, didn’t quite have the determination to rival Britton.
“The fact is I feel I’ve come fourth so many times,” said Britton, which she has – as recently as the European outdoor 10,000m, last summer, and also the 2010 European Cross Country. “Now I feel so old saying that, but having been in fourth place coming into the last lap, I was just thinking, ‘I am not coming fourth . . .’ That’s really what gave me any bit of a kick I had there.
“And maybe I could have got silver, but then maybe have been fourth as well, so to win a medal, and it’s never easy to win them, you have to be happy whenever you get them.”
Sara Moreira from Portugal, silver medallist from 2009, was the decisive winner, taking command over the closing laps, winning in 8:58.50: then came the epic battle for the remaining medals, Britton getting a run on the inside, but Corinna Harrer from Germany just holding on for silver in 9:00.50, with Britton clocking 9:00.54.
She ran the last km in 2.48.5, exceptionally quick by any standards – and with tactical brilliance too, nerves not helped by a race restart, after Britain’s Lauren Howarth fell on the first bend. Yet Britton’s focus throughout was superb, and she got herself into that zone by warming-up outside, away from the main arena, and the distraction of seeing her rivals.
That it came less than 24 hours after Ciarán Ó Lionáird also won bronze, in the men’s event, made it that bit special again, and brings to 15 the number of medals Ireland has now won since the championships were made official, in 1970.
Another important element to all of this is that Britton essentially came to Gothenburg as preparation for the World Cross Country, in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in three weeks’ time – where she’ll lead a strong Irish women’s team.
There were perhaps slim hopes of another Irish medal a little earlier, when Ciara Everard went in the final of the 800m, yet as bravely and determinedly as she tried, she finished sixth – her 2:02.55 just a split second outside her lifetime best.
Aged just 22, it won’t be the last we’ll hear of Everard, and certainly not the last we’ll hear of Britton on the track now, either.