Modest Britton will find it hard to run away and hide now
ON ATHLETICS:‘It used to be I ran to get where I was going. I never thought it would take me anywhere.”
Forrest Gump said that, and it’s true, sometimes, if you really feel that way. It’s why Bob Dylan is still singing songs and Keith Richards is still playing guitar, because if it was about the praise and recognition and the tired old accolades they would have given up a long time ago.
“What drives me to you is what drives me insane,” Dylan sings, in Isis, and that’s true too, of many things – including, it seems, where running has now taken Fionnuala Britton. I can’t remember a more spontaneously golden moment in Irish athletics, at least not in recent years, than witnessing Britton defend her European Cross Country title in Budapest last Sunday, and with that leading the Irish women to team gold medals.
To hear Amhrán na bhFiann played twice, in quick succession, in the freezing Hungarian air, instantly wiped all the failures and bickering and bloody politics that up to then had defined the year. Athletics Ireland sure has an uncanny knack of digging itself out of black holes and plastering over some gaping cracks, although we’ll leave that at that, for now.
Because Britton deserves all the wholesome praise and recognition she gets – the only problem with that being she’d much rather run away and hide. Her modesty is perfectly reflective of Catherina McKiernan, who won the inaugural European Cross Country in 1994, and shared an innate aversion to the back-slapping acclaim and overload of plaudits that typically comes with such sporting glory.
John Treacy also preferred a long, hot bath the night he defended his World Cross Country title in Limerick, in 1979 to the eulogising and toasting that was going on down in the bar of the Irish team hotel, although Treacy did later get drunk on half a bottle of beer.
So it was no surprise whatsoever to hear Britton was in bed before midnight last Sunday, up early the next morning for a photo shoot, a run, then a bus tour of Budapest, before returning home with her successful team mates that evening. She made no secret either of the blessing to have those team-mates to share the spotlight of the welcoming celebration at Dublin airport, indeed an embarrassing enough moment at the best of times.
Some athletes love to lick up this sort of praise, love being under that spotlight, Usain Bolt being an obvious example, but Britton is definitely not one of them. She gives the distinct impression she’d gladly run without any honour or prize, just to get where she’s going, in terms of her own personal goals and satisfaction – although that’s not saying Britton doesn’t have a ruthless competitive streak to try and be the best there is.