Sonia O'Sullivan sets European 5km road best (© Getty Images Allsport)
LondonSonia O’Sullivan missed the World 5km best by just two seconds after once again producing her fearsome sprint finish to win the Flora Light Challenge for Women in a time of 14:56, for 5K on the roads in London's Hyde Park.
The Irish star set out to break Deena Drossin’s World best of 14:54 and abandoned her usual sit-and-wait tactics, although it turned out to be her trusted finishing kick that bailed her out after she was later caught by training partner Benita Johnson, the World Cross Country Championships fourth placer.
O’Sullivan blasted from the gun and was on World best schedule through 1km (2:53) and 2km (5:53), and victory seemed secure as she opened a clear lead over the chasing trio, Spain's European 5,000m champion Marta Dominguez and Australians Sue Power and Johnson.
At 3km (8:58) the pace had slowed but the gap appeared to be growing still, but Johnson then began to reel O'Sullivan in, dragging Dominguez along with her. O’Sullivan had slipped outside 15 minute schedule with a kilometre to go (12:04) and had seen her lead greatly diminished, so it speaks volume for her spirit and determination that she was able to respond and go on to win in a European best of 14:56.
In the end she broke Paula Radcliffe’s European mark, set in this race last year, but could not quite take Drossin’s World best set in Carlsbad in April. She said: “I came here wanting to break the record but I slowed after a fast start and when Benita caught me I was only thinking about winning and times had gone out of my head.
“I ran one second faster than Paula Radcliffe did last year and look what she has gone on to do, so I can’t complain. It came as a shock when Benita caught me because I heard one guy say I was miles clear, but I never doubted I would win still. I just had to re-adjust and re-focus, and maybe it was a good thing because I would not have run so fast if she hadn’t been pushing me near the end.”
O’Sullivan was delighted to win against a classy field and she now embarks on a busy racing schedule. Speculation is increasing that a marathon will come at the end of that racing spell, over a variety of distances. Next Sunday she will run the Great South Run 10 miler in Portsmouth, followed by the Nike 10km in London two weeks later, where she will take on the likes of Paula Radcliffe and Elana Meyer.
Next month the Great North Run half-marathon in Newcastle is on her schedule – where Derartu Tulu, Susan Chepkemei, Fernanda Ribeiro, Joyce Chepchumba, Berhane Adere and Jelena Prokopcuka are among her rivals – and she will also return to her homeland for the Great Loughrea Run 5, where in 1999 she won in 24:27, only for it to be discounted for World best purposes.
A busy schedule by anyone’s standards, but will a marathon follow at the end of it? O'Sullivan was a little less forthcoming when it came to that question. “This year is all about doing a bit of everything,” she said.
So that means she is running a marathon, then?
“I didn’t say that,” she replied with a laugh.
O’Sullivan displayed all the qualities of a politician when it came to dodging a yes/no answer to a straightforward question, but one thing is beyond doubt and that is that she is in excellent form currently. Her new European best follows the Irish 10,000m record she set in Munich, where she also took silver medal at 5000m behind Marta Dominguez, but the Spaniard had no answer to her today in London.
Dominguez had to settle for third, losing touch after she and Johnson finally caught O’Sullivan. From that point it was left to Johnson and O’Sullivan to contest an exciting battle for the lead, and when O’Sullivan turned the final corner she kicked with such devastating effect that the race was immediately over.
Chepchumba, returning to London the scene of two of her greatest marathon victories, narrowly defeated her training partner Tegla Loroupe, who has had a difficult time recently with injuries. Loroupe, the 2000 champion and runner-up last year, still hopes to run a marathon later this year and believes she can still reclaim the World marathon best from fellow countrywoman Catherine Ndereba.
She said: “I was hoping to run quicker today, but I lost my rhythm around 3km when I was cut up on a corner by one of my rivals and I lost valuable time.”
Loroupe has picked up a stomach injury as a consequence of doing back stretches, which she had been advised to do to help overcome the back problem that has troubled her for several years, an injury that at one point threatened her career.
Today's event attracted 25,000 women with 3,000 turned away due to the entry limit being reached. At the first event in 1998 there were just 4,500 runners and the then-three-mile race was won in 16:19. In five editions of the event there has now been a total of 75,000 runners and the last two years have produced a World best and a European best.
How will race organiser Dave Bedford follow that next year?
1 Sonia O’Sullivan (IRL) 14:56
2 Benita Johnson (AUS) 14:59
3 Marta Dominguez (ESP) 15:11
4 Susie Power (AUS) 15:15
5 Joyce Chepchumba (KEN) 15:24
6 Tegla Loroupe (KEN) 15:26
7 Mihaela Botezan (ROM) 15:32
8 Yelena Burykina (RUS) 15:59
9 Amanda Wright-Allen (GBR) 16:07
10 Catherine Berry (GBR) 16:14