Fionnuala Britton at the pre-event press conference (© Getty Images)
A clash between Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton and France’s Sophie Duarte will highlight the SPAR Great Ireland Run in Dublin on Sunday (6), with the pair – who are better known for their cross-country exploits – now set to take their rivalry to the roads in the IAAF Silver Label Road Race over 10km.
Britton, 29, is a two-time European cross-country champion – in 2011 and 2012 – but could only finish fourth in the same event last December as Duarte claimed the title. The pair have raced each other on 14 occasions in the past, on the track and on cross-country, with Britton having the edge, 8-6. But this will be their first race against one another on the road.
Speaking to the IAAF ahead of Sunday’s race, the Irish athlete sounded in confident form.
“I got a good block of training in since January,” said Britton. “My main focus this year will be on the European Championships in Zurich, and I’ll be hoping to get a qualifier for the 10,000m for that in May. A race like this is good to look forward to, especially as we move into the summer season.”
Britton, who lives in Dublin and often trains in the Phoenix Park – the venue for Sunday’s race – is relishing the challenge of renewing her rivalry with Duarte on home soil in front of a home crowd.
“I think what makes this race special is that the crowd are literally behind you,” she said, referring to the 12,000 competitors expected to compete on the day. “There’s a greater sense of camaraderie and understanding among the whole crowd when everyone has tried their best to conquer the course, as opposed to the majority cheering from the side-lines.”
This will be Duarte’s first race in Ireland, and Britton joked that she hopes the unreliable weather obliges to make it a good experience for her rival. “Sophie always tells me how she would like to come to Ireland and I like to tell people how great Ireland is, so I hope the weather will be good so her memories of the place will be good,” she said.
Currently, the forecast for Sunday predicts a mild 15°C with occasional rain, something that is unlikely to inconvenience Britton, who is used to such inclement weather on a daily basis. “I stayed in Ireland to train for the last few months,” she said. “The height of excitement of each day’s training was anticipating and predicting the weather.”
Some of the other leading contenders for the women’s title include Britain’s Helen Clitheroe, the 2011 European indoor 3000m champion, and Spain’s Alessandra Aguilar, who was fifth in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow last year.
The men’s field on Sunday is also headed by an athlete better known for his cross-country exploits – Japhet Korir of Kenya. Korir, still only 20, is the current world cross-country champion, a title he won in Bydgoszcz, Poland last year. With a 10km best of 27:52, he will start as a warm favourite for the men’s event, a race won last year by Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele.
However, if Korir is below his best, Britain’s Andy Vernon should run him close on Sunday. The European cross-country bronze medallist comes to Dublin off the back of the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot last month, where he finished 11th in the men’s 3000m.
Other international competitors of note include Australia’s Commonwealth silver medallist Michael Shelley and Spain’s Javier Guerra, who finished two places behind Vernon at the European Cross Country Championships in December.
Before the main races get underway, there will be an elite men’s road mile – an event which pits some of Ireland’s best middle-distance talents against their counterparts from Great Britain. Paul Robinson, who boasts a 3:35.22 1500m personal best, will lead the home challenge and start as favourite.
However, the 22-year-old from Kildare will have his hands full, facing some strong international opposition from Brits Ross Murray, who boasts a mile PB of 3:52.77, and James Brewer, who has a best of 3:54.80 for the distance.
Another leading contender is Ireland’s David McCarthy, who narrowly missed qualification for the men’s 1500m final at last month’s World Indoor Championships in Sopot, and has been in impressive form this season.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF