NEWLY crowned European Cross Country champion Fionnuala Britton arrived in Dublin Airport yesterday evening to a rapturous reception.
Members of Britton’s County Wicklow club, Kilcoole AC, were there to greet her, along with Athletics Ireland chief executive John Foley and DCU’s Athletics Academy director Enda Fitzpatrick — the college where Britton spent a number of years on an athletic scholarship. Also present was Britton’s former coach Pat Diskin.
It was a memorable homecoming too for the Irish team members and management who were part of this special weekend for Irish sport in Slovenia. For a few moments as she walked out into the arrivals hall, Britton looked overwhelmed by the crowd there to greet her.
“It has been a long weekend but a very worthwhile one too,” she said.
“I knew that coming out in front of the crowd would be a bit scary, but it is worth it. Yesterday in Velerje I just stuck to my pre-race plan and hoped it would be enough to win and in the end it was.
“For me, it was all about this past weekend and I really have not looked at anything past that. Last year I would have been happy with just a medal in these championships but this year I really wanted to win it.”
Last year, Britton was devastated when she finished in fourth place.
“I suppose I was stronger this year and I wanted it more as well. I had a good year of training behind me and a lot of people to support me. The support in Velerje was unbelievable, as well and the amount of wishes I have received since winning has been incredible. It makes it even better that people can share in my success.”
Britton, now coached by Chris Jones, has worked hard over the past year on building upper body strength under the supervision of John Cleary at the Institute of Sport.
“I have received a lot of help from John Cleary at the Institute of Sport and at DCU I also have great support from Declan Monaghan and Crionna Tobin.
A last-lap call of support from her sister Una also helped propel Britton to this famous gold medal —- the first time an Irish woman won this European title since Catherina McKiernan in 1994.
“I could hear the British support getting stronger going out on the last lap and I knew that Gemma Steele was coming back at me. It was then I heard my sister [Una] shouting, ‘you want it more than the rest of them’. That was what kept me going for the first half of the last lap and after that I felt safe.”
Una Britton finished 38th in the women’s Under 23 event.
Britton intends to concentrate on cross country running for the next few months and at this stage she is keeping her options open about what event she will compete in at next year’s London Olympics, where she has already qualified to run in the steeplechase.
“I will try to qualify in as many events as possible and keep my options open,” she said.
There was a special cheer too at Dublin Airport for Joe Sweeney of Dundrum South Dublin Athletic Club, who finished a brilliant fifth in the men’s senior race at the European Championships.
“It was a really great experience and it showed how much I have learned by getting the experience at this level of competition through junior and U23 levels,” Sweeney said.
The DSD athlete is coached by Jerry Kiernan, who finished ninth in the marathon at the 1984 Olympics.
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