By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Most of the glory yet again went to African athletes, but with Sonia O’Sullivan flying the Irish flag at Sunday’s World Cross Country championships at Leopardstown racecourse in Dublin, it was no great surprise that a sizable home crowd had something to celebrate. Defying the odds, Ireland’s women, with O’Sullivan leading the way, grabbed a team bronze medal in the short course event.
Finishing ahead of traditionally stronger nations such as Russia, Australia and the U.S., the Irish bunched superbly over the 4.2-kilometer distance to take the bronze as O’Sullivan, just 12 weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, ran superbly to finish in seventh place.
If O’Sullivan’s effort was exceptional in the circumstances, then Anne Keenan-Buckley, who came in three places back in 10th, probably sealed the medal for the Irish. Much more suited to the longer event, Keenan-Buckley hung in magnificently in O’Sullivan’s slipstream and then Rosemary Ryan in 19th and Maria McCambridge in 62nd place did enough to pip the Russians by a single point.
“It was fantastic, we did the job and if we’d lost the medal by a point I wouldn’t have been happy at all,” O’Sullivan said. “The first lap out there was actually easy. I was thinking I could win it. But three months training is not enough. Coming across the line it was just happiness that nobody else came past me. I could hear them calling Anne’s [Keenan-Buckley] name just behind me, so I knew we had a chance.”
However, the Irish success was tainted somewhat when team manager Jerry Kiernan criticized the selectors for picking the wrong team.
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“I was very nervous during the last lap,” he said. “I was starting to rue the absence of Breda Dennehy-Willis because you just have to have your best team possible in a race like this.
“Some of the Irish selectors showed a remarkable lack of foresight and almost blew our medal chances. If I’m going to be considered for team manager again, then I’ll have to have the final say in team selection whenever there are any doubts.”
The women’s short course event was won by Edith Masai of Kenya in 13 minutes 30 seconds, with England’s Paula Radcliffe taking the long event in 26:55. Meanwhile, with two stunning performances, Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia became the first male athlete to record a short and long course double at the same World championships.