On Monday, the 32-year-old native of Cobh, Co. Cork, returned to announce that she would take part in the city’s longest-running street festival, the New York City Marathon, which, this year, will take place on Sunday, Nov. 3.
Although O’Sullivan is best known for her spectacular successes on the track (she won the Olympic silver medal over 5000 meters in 2000) and in cross country (she won two world titles on the same weekend back in 1998), racing 26.2 miles on the roads will not be entirely new territory. In 2000, she entered the Dublin Marathon as a means of logging a long training run while testing the distance. She won the race in 2:35:42. That performance spoke more of her ability than of a commitment to the distance, but it will all be different when she toes the line on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Bridge in November. Rather than a canter over the distance, the 2002 New York City Marathon will constitute a clash between the Irish track titan and some of the finest marathon runners in the world, all of whom will be eager to show O’Sullivan that, in this medium, her fearsome reputation counts for naught.
The indications are that O’Sullivan will be superbly prepared for the 26.2 mile task. Following a summer track season in which she ran as fast as at any time in her career — including an Irish 10,000 record of 30:47.59 — and in which she claimed two silver medals in the European Championships, O’Sullivan turned to the roads in September. On Sept. 1, over 5K in London, she recorded a time of 14:56, missing the world’s best time for the distance by just two seconds. On Sept. 8 in Portsmouth, England, she allowed no such margin for error, scorching around the 10-mile loop in a time of 51:00, pruning 16 seconds from the previous world’s best, set by marathon specialist Colleen De Reuck in 1996.
O’Sullivan’s mark was eclipsed last Sunday by Kenya’s Lornah Kiplagat, who ran 50:54 and who also be contesting the New York event. But while Kiplagat was racing to record figures, O’Sullivan was in the midst of a key event of her own. She contested the Run London 10K along with 23,000 others in London’s Richmond Park. Prior to the start, though, she ran for one hour. Upon finding that the race was delayed, she ran an additional 30 minutes. Then she covered the race distance in 33:47, good for third place behind the winning 30:38 of British star, Paula Radcliffe.
“Ever since I ran the Women’s Mini Marathon, I had it in my head that I might run the New York Marathon,” O’Sullivan said at her Monday press conference in O’Neill’s restaurant and bar on Third Avenue. In preparation for the event, she has been logging runs as long as 2 hours and 40 minutes — in the region of 24 miles. “I ran the Dublin Marathon as a one off and forgot about it afterward,” she explained. “It’s only in the last couple of months that I’ve thought about what it really means to run a marathon.”
In addition to a substantial increase in weekly training mileage, what it means is a new world of athletic opportunity for the Irish legend to explore. The example of her perennial rival, Radcliffe, is a salient one. After toiling in the middle-distance wars year after year, Radcliffe stepped up to the marathon distance last April in London, scorching to a 2:18:56 victory, just nine seconds shy of the world record. In the months since, Radcliffe has gone from strength to strength, winning, among other events, the European 10,000 title, notably the race in which O’Sullivan earned the silver medal. It’s a lesson not lost on the latter.
“There’s no reason not to go back and run on the track again,” O’Sullivan stated, continuing that the 5000 is most likely in her plans for the 2003 World Championships in Paris and the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Of course, were she to make her New York debut as stunning as that of Radcliffe in London, who’s to say where her emphasis would lie?
Those championships are on a far horizon. It is New York that takes precedence right now. Next on O’Sullivan’s agenda is the Oct. 6th Great North Run in the English city of Newcastle. As many as 47,000 people will take part in the event; for O’Sullivan it will be the final test before her first serious attempt at the full distance.
“I’m not thinking about a time,” she said. “The competition and the race are much more important to me than the clock.”
In that, the New York Marathon will be just the same as all the other races in which O’Sullivan has taken part. She will start with only one objective: to win.