McCormack back to extend record of international caps

World Cross Country Championships a stepping-stone for return to the marathon

Fionnuala McCormack: the marathon is likely to be her focus for Tokyo 2020. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Fionnuala McCormack: the marathon is likely to be her focus for Tokyo 2020. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The last thing Fionnuala McCormack set out to do was set any sort of appearance record. Everything about her long and distinguished running career has so far felt like a natural extension, and that includes a return to perhaps her original stage: the country.

McCormack’s appearance at Saturday’s World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, will also mark her 37th Irish senior international cap –extending her record in athletics for an Irish woman, and bettered only by the all-time record of 45 caps held by javelin-thrower Terry McHugh.

Athletics does not celebrate these senior international caps like most team sports do, but it is a no less impressive and resolute achievement.

At age 34, McCormack is far from finished, and Saturday’s event is her first international appearance since skipping the 2018 season to give birth to daughter Isla last October.

There is plenty of evidence that women distance runners get a fresh lease on their career after childbirth, as in the case of Sonia O’Sullivan (she holds the second-highest number of Irish senior women’s caps with 34; Derval O’Rourke is next on 32).

Medals and plaudits

Since starting out as Fionnuala Britton, the Wicklow woman has spread her 36 appearances to date across the track, road and country, winning plenty of medals and plaudits in the process. In 2012 she became the first woman to defend the European Cross Country, and a year later won a bronze medal over 3,000m at the European Indoors in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I always love running in Belfast, so I thought, what better place to start back and get back to full fitness

Aarhus, set up as the most demanding course in World Cross Country history, will also act as a stepping-stone for McCormack’s return to the marathon, the distance she competed in at the Rio 2016 Olympics, finishing a very creditable 20th, sixth-best European. She will run the famed Boston Marathon on April 15th.

The marathon is likely to be her focus for Tokyo 2020, in what would be her fourth Olympics, though that may require an improvement on her marathon best of 2:31:22 (the Tokyo qualifying time is 2:29:30).

In the meantime her competitive return has been without much fanfare, as McCormack invariably prefers. Her first outing was the Antrim International Cross Country in January, where she finished sixth.

“I always love running in Belfast, so I thought, what better place to start back and get back to full fitness,” she said.

Other records

McCormack holds other records in Irish athletics caps, the first of which was won by Maurice Davin on June 5th, 1876, when he threw the hammer and shot in the international dual-meet with England.

In the 143 years since, McCormack is the only Irish man or woman to compete in five European Outdoor Championships, her 11 European Cross Country appearances also a record.

Joining McCormack in Aarhus are Seán Tobin, Kevin Dooney and Sara Treacy, all of whom are making their first senior appearances in the event. Darragh McElhinney and Jamie Battle will be in the junior men’s race.

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