Athletics: Irish return for O'Sullivan

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The Independent Online
SONIA O'SULLIVAN has entered the Bupa Ireland Loughrea Run on 16 October, her first event since giving birth to her daughter five weeks ago.

The Republic of Ireland star, who last summer completed an unprecedented 5,000m and 10,000m double when taking both gold medals in the European Championships, returned to training only 10 days after the birth of Ciari on July 10.

"I started by pushing the baby's pram a mile to see friends, then going even further distances to see other mates," said O'Sullivan. "Then one day she started to cry and obviously needed feeding, so I began running and pushed the pram home as quickly as I could."

Now the Cork-born star is looking forward to the five-mile Loughrea Run, a race with a rich history. The Olympic medallists Brendan Foster won it in 1976 and 1977 and Sebastian Coe came second to Mike McLeod a year later. But the race's success ultimately brought its demise in 1980 with the organisers finding it too big an event to handle. That was the year the race was cancelled when it clashed with a visit by the Pope to Galway.

"Even we couldn't compete with him," said the local organiser Joe Grace. The race, however, has been set a ceiling of 2,500 entrants in a bid to give it back its stature in the Irish road-running calendar.

Delighted to be competing again in her native Ireland, O'Sullivan said: "Certainly I'm looking forward to Loughrea. In the past it was a tremendous event and I am sure it can again recreate its image of a couple of decades ago.

"There are not too many events staged in Ireland in which I can compete. But this one is fine by me, particularly the chance of running with my fans. You can't play football with Roy Keane, but you can run a five-mile run with me."

Since becoming a mother, O'Sullivan has gradually stepped up her training to an average of 60 miles per week. She will increase it further as she looks towards next year's Olympic Games in Sydney.

"I know when the Olympics begin and I am planning my schedule back from there," she said. "I don't know whether I will run 5000m or 10000m - but I certainly have no plans for a 1500m or marathon. I might even try and fit in a track race before this season finishes."

If she does not, O'Sullivan's first competitive race will be the Bupa Great North Run, six days before Loughrea. Last October she won the world's biggest half-marathon and is eager to defend her title on Tyneside again this year.

The Russian athletics chief, Valentin Balakhnichyov, has contested a move by the pole-vaulter Viktor Chistyakov to represent Australia at next week's World Championships.

Chistyakov, who has lived in Australia since 1996, was granted Australian citizenship this week and is is a leading medal contender in Seville. Balakhnichyov said he had a letter from Chistyakov saying he would like to compete for Russia. "As far as I'm concerned, if you make a decision you should stick with it," Balakhnichyov said.