Queen Elizabeth’s estate Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands will this Saturday play host to the road race debut of Romania’s World 1500m and Olympic 5000 metres track champion Gabriela Szabo. The women’s 5 miles race will also mark Szabo’s competitive reappearance after a seven month lay off since the IAAF World Championships in Edmonton last summer.
"She had undergone too many races in the last four year period," said husband and coach Zsolt Gyongyossy, “’so after Edmonton we decided she must take a long rest."
"I wanted to have a race around this time and my manager Jos Hermens told me he could fix up a nice road race for me…I haven't run one before but eight kilometres will suit me," " said Szabo after arriving in Aberdeen from her South African training camp – 60 miles north of Johannesburg - where she has been based since January.
The Balmoral course, on which Britain’s double World Cross Country Champion Paula Radcliffe set a World best in 1999 at both 8km (24:38) and 5 miles (24:47), will pit Szabo against Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan, who took the Olympic silver medal behind the Romanian in a tight battle to the line in Sydney. Yet with Spain’s newly crowned European indoor 3000m champion Marta Dominguez also in the field, neither Szabo and O’Sullivan can count on a simple head to head confrontation.
After giving birth to second daughter Sophie on December 23, O'Sullivan is, like Szabo taking her first steps back into racing, and was delighted with her individual seventh placing which led Ireland to the team bronze medal in last Sunday's IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Dublin.
"I'm not further ahead than I expect to be, I'm probably just where I should be,” said O’Sullivan. “But it is good to know I'm not behind. On January 1st I started back training again - and here I am - a normal athlete again."
O’Sullivan is also sure that Szabo’s inexperience on the road will be no obstacle for the Romanian. "Every year she's come out in her first race and been as good as in any of her races.
I'll have every respect for her - she wouldn't be coming here if she wasn't fit enough to run well. There's no question it will be a tough race and I'll be trying my best to beat her."
The men’s 5 miles in Balmoral this weekend will also be a classy affair featuring Ethiopia’s Olympic 5000 metres gold medallist Million Wolde, Ukraine’s European Cross Country champion Sergey Lebed and Tanzania’s John Yuda runner-up in last weekend's World Cross Country long course race.