Athletics: O'Sullivan makes early start

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The Independent Online

Sonia O'Sullivan, the Olympic 5,000 metres silver medallist, has spent the last week at her alma mater of Villanova University completing preparations for Sunday's New York City Marathon. Having decided she would compete over the distance for the first time earlier in the year, O'Sullivan is convinced travelling early to the United States has been a positive move.

O'Sullivan won the Dublin Marathon two years ago in a time of two hours 35 minutes and 40 seconds, but her decision to race there was taken at the last minute and she never really extended herself.

This weekend, however, is different and as she comes up against some of the world's leading marathon runners, O'Sullivan is under no illusions about the task she faces. She has prepared thoroughly and on a course where the winner is expected to clock 2hr 20min, the Irish national record of 2hr 22min 23sec is clearly in sight.

O'Sullivan holds every Irish record from 800m to the half-marathon and Catherina McKiernan's mark, set in 1998, could be next on the hit list. The 32-year-old said: "I arrived in New York last Wednesday night and stayed one night before heading to Villanova. We're staying near Valley Forge which is a huge park where a lot of runners train."

The list of formidable runners competing includes Kenyan's Catherine Ndereba and the former New York champion John Kagwe.

O'Sullivan clearly feels at home at Villanova, as many top Irish athletes have over the years, and the support of her countryfolk there, including the former middle distance runner Marcus O'Sullivan, will give her a psychological lift for her date in the Big Apple.

According to organisers, almost the entire Irish population of New York will turn out on Sunday to watch O'Sullivan, who admits the vocal support is something she will appreciate.

She said: "Some of the girls on the Villanova team plan to come up to watch the race. I'm doing a light track session today and we're driving up to New York on Wednesday. All the training is done, so I'm just going to enjoy the build-up knowing I've done everything I need to except the race."