Cross CountryOpinion

Sonia stands up for cross country

Double world cross country champion Sonia O’Sullivan is passionate about the values of cross country for distance running success. She was taken aback that Ireland have decided not to send a women’s team to the World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China. She sent us in this piece.

Sonia O’Sullivan

World Cross Country 2015

It was with sadness that I read Ireland will not be represented at the World Cross Country Championships this year. The Championships will take place in Guiyang, China and possibly the distance to get to the Championships has been the reason not to send any Irish athletes.

I can’t fathom how a country with such a rich history and tradition in cross country running at the highest level can simply expect people to accept that “we’re just not sending a team this year.” This is a World Championship and Ireland have qualified a team based on their own selection criteria which allows for a team winning a medal at the European Championships the opportunity to run at the World cross Country Championships.

The Irish women’s team won a bronze medal at the European Championships last December and this followed on from winning Gold in 2012 which preceded a very credible 5th placing at the last staging of the World Cross Country Championships in 2013 (Bydogozcz, Poland).

How in two years can we go from being one of the best teams in the world to simply not showing up this year? For many athletes this would be the pinnacle of their athletics career, to represent their country at a World Championship, to gain exposure to such a high level of competition that may inspire greater achievements in the future . If we do not take part then how can we possibly know where we are at on the world stage?

The World Cross Country Championships has always been known as one of the toughest races you can run. It is open to athletes who specialise in anything from the 800m to the marathon, traditionally this is where athletes gained their strength in mind, body and heart. Athletics is such an individual sport, this was one of the few opportunities where endurance athletes could come together as a team with more reason to run than their own individual success.

Cross country is the sport where most athletes were introduced to athletics, the most basic and fundamental part of our sport. it seems inconceivable to be able to throw away the basics and expect success later in the year. It’s a bit like building a house without any foundation.

It may be old fashioned or traditional, but I don’t see any modern methods that deliver any greater success.

The World Cross country provides challenges that can’t be practised in training, allowing the athletes to think for themselves and make decisions not based on split times or controlled paced races. This is athletics in its purest form and I feel tests the courage and bravery of athletes. Where else can an athlete be tested over undulating terrain against the best distance runners in the world in the one race .

The World Cross Country has recently seen courses with barriers to jump so the relationship to developing steeplechase runners seems ideal, a more appropriate development and preparation plan than being encouraged to run indoors in March. I can’t see the positive co-relation myself.

The qualification of a team should encourage the selection of athletes that can represent Ireland, the motivation is there for athletes to compete for a place on the team but this should be shouted out loud for all to hear rather than quietly swept under the carpet and let’s hope nobody really wants to go .

The World Cross country may have lost its attraction to the TV audience but that shouldn’t mean that its importance and attractiveness to athletes should be diminished and regarded as a “non-event.” We need to promote the importance and value of the World Cross country in an athlete’s year and encourage the best possible team to compete and represent Ireland with pride.

If you take the time to look back through the results, the only years when Ireland were regularly represented later in the year at European, World and Olympic games in the longer distance races was following on from successful representation at the World Cross Country Championships in March.

If we want to support and improve the development of distance running in Ireland then the importance of the World Cross Country must be highlighted and we must use it to our benefit to bring athletes together to inspire each other to aim higher and achieve greater success throughout the year.

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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

1 Comment

  1. Morgan O Sullivan
    February 2, 2015 at 4:04 pm — Reply

    How is this slipping under the radar, Can Sports council representatives Eamon Coughlan, et al, not lobby for a team to participate ???

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