Action81.com is kicking off it’s coverage for International Women’s Week/Day with a bang. Emmet Ryan spoke with two-time European Cross Country champion and European 3,000m Indoor silver medallist Fionnuala Britton.
Fionnuala Britton has inherited the throne of Sonia O’Sullivan as Ireland’s queen of long distance running but her career started out with a different focus. Originally a steeplechaser, Britton had a tough decision to make in order to bring her career forward. “It was tough for me because I really liked the steeplechase but not for my coach and it was kind of him who had the final say in it. When you’re coming into Olympics and stuff you’ve got to do what you’re going to be best and steeplechasing was probably a bit too short for me,” says Britton.
The move has clearly been to the Wicklow runner’s benefit, claiming European Cross Country titles in 2011 and 2012. Britton welcomes the attention her success has received but acknowledges it took a while for her achievements to hit the mainstream. “It’s funny this year. Like in 2011 when I won it was a big deal to me but I’m noticing a lot more attention this year. I know it was a big deal because we won the team, a double victory on the day, but I think people noticed more this year and I don’t really know why,” she says.
The Wicklow runner spearheads a core of Irish female runners who are making a name for themselves on the international circuit. “It’s great to see that there’s a group of girls that are all strong. Male sports get a lot of attention and it’s nice to see in athletics that a lot of the time it’s the girls pushing the boat out,” says Britton.
The amplification of attention for Britton has seen her mentioned in the same light as Ireland’s most prominent athlete, Katie Taylor. She is quick to praise Taylor and recognises there’s a long way to go to match her county-woman. “I don’t think I could put myself up with Katie Taylor but being from the same county we get mentioned a lot together even though I feel I’m in her shadow which suits me. Winning an Olympic gold medal is different to winning Europeans,” she says.
On Sunday Britton took bronze in the 3,000 metres at the European Indoor Championships. Her success came despite little experience on the indoor circuit. “This is only the second year I’ve ever ran indoor races. I went down to the track in Athlone in January for a session. You’re inside and you could be on any track in Europe, it’s strange to have such good facilities in Ireland,” she says.
While most eyes in the Athletics world will be focussed squarely on the Diamond League season and World Championships in Moscow, Britton has more immediate concerns. “For me cross country is a big part of the season and there is a lot of attention around it because the media isn’t focussing as much on other sports. Cross country season goes all the way from October to March so for me that’s very much where my season is still,” she says. “I haven’t thought far past World Cross. Everything else is out there in the distance. It’s always hard to tell. I’ve been top 15 before and now I’ve got to aim for top 10.”
Along with Taylor, Britton, and the other promising track and field performers, Ireland is currently showing significant progress with female competitors in the pool. Britton says there’s an advantage for women looking to get ahead in such individual sports. “From an individual sport point of view, it’s easier to be successful because you don’t need that team around you. That’s probably why sports like Swimming, Boxing, and Athletics are making those breakthroughs,” she says.
Follow Emmet Ryan on Twitter.