O'Sullivan hunts more Irish gold

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The Independent Online

Like the men's 800 metres, this is likely to be one of the most open and intriguing events of the Games. It offers Sonia O'Sullivan, of Ireland, the opportunity to become the first athlete to complete the Olympic 1500 and 5000m double since Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, in 1928.

O'Sullivan, who won the world title in Gothenburg last year, will run the 5,000m, her main event, first in the programme. She is looking at the "Olympic metric mile" as being an extra after, she hopes, becoming the first Irishwoman to win an Olympic gold medal on the track, following the double-gold feats in Atlanta of Michelle Smith in the pool.

O'Sullivan, who lives and trains in Teddington under the direction of her manager, Kim McDonald, had every right to be in high spirits in Oslo on 5 July after beating several of her main rivals over in 3min 59.91sec, a time bettered this year only by Svetlana Masterkova of Russia with 3:59.30. If O'Sullivan does succeed at her most favoured distance of 5,000m, she will come to the with the confidence to cover every move that is made. Confidence is one thing Britain's Kelly Holmes is short of in Atlanta. Holmes, who finished second to O'Sullivan in Norway in a personal best of 4min 01.13sec, arrived in Atlanta with hopes of chasing gold in the 800m and . But a stress fracture in her lower left leg has put her in doubt for the 800m, for which heats start on Friday, and is in a race against time to make it to the .

The reigning Olympic and world champion Hassiba Boulmerka will be back to defend her title. A recent, rare non-championship outing in Nice ended in defeat at the hands of Carla Sacramento of Portugal, although the Algerian was recovering from an illness at the time. She will not easily give up the title she won with such nationalistic pride in Barcelona.

Maria Mutola of Mozambique, regarded as the favourite for the 800m, is expected to double up in Atlanta. Mutola is coming into these Games with powerful motivation to do well, having been disqualified from last year's 800m semi-final at the world championships for running out of her lane.

Mutola will hope for a slow race where she can use her strong finish to best effect. O'Sullivan, Boulmerka and - if she runs - Holmes will be aware of the danger and are unlikely to let the pace slacken.


World 3:50.46 Qu Yunxia (China) 1993

Olympic 3:53.96 Paula Ivan (Romania) 1988

British 3:59.96 Zola Budd 1985

Best times in the world - 1996

3:59.30 Svetlana Masterkova (Russia)

3:59.91 Sonia O'Sullivan (Ireland)

4:01.13 Kelly Holmes (Great Britain)

Best British performances - 1996

4:01.13 Kelly Holmes

First three forecast

1. H Boulmerka (Alg)

2. O'Sullivan

3. C. Sacramento (Por)