Fionnuala Britton’s decision to abandon the track this summer will not hinder her bid for a third consecutive European cross-country gold, believes Catherina McKiernan.
The 29-year-old decided to withdraw from the outdoor season as a chest infection, which had sidelined her through June and early July, failed to subside.
Far from being undercooked in the build-up to Sunday’s race in Belgrade, McKiernan, the inaugural European cross-country winner, said the summer layoff could work to Britton’s advantage.
“I wouldn’t be worried that Fionnuala missed the track season, it allowed her to rest and recover properly from the illness that was affecting her,” she asserted.
“A lot of the athletes coming into the cross-country season are just after a hard track season and that can prove a hindrance. It could be a blessing in disguise that Fionnuala withdrew from the track season. If she had had that hard summer on the track, she wouldn’t be as fresh.
“She did very well in the Gerry Farnan race and inter-counties, she was really impressive in both those races. She will know herself what kind of form she is in. I expect Fionnuala to take them out on Sunday, from the front, that is where she is comfortable. She is a great judge of a race and she can control a race very well. She has the confidence to win, she has done it before.”
France’s Sophie Duarte, fifth in Budapest last year, had seven seconds over Britton at the recent Cross de l’Acier and McKiernan views the French athlete as the outstanding threat to Irish gold this weekend, acknowledging that her opposition has been weakened by the news Ethiopian-turned-Dutch Sifan Hassan will contest the U23 event.
“Duarte beat her by seven seconds in France, 60m or so, a nice distance. She’ll be a threat. That course was only 6.6km whereas this weekend is 8km. The longer distance will play into Fionnuala’s hand.
“The Ethiopian girl was a threat and there had been a lot of talk about here. We shouldn’t expect any other surprises and I think Fionnuala will be there or thereabouts come the wind-up for home.
“I don’t think the expectation of three-in-a-row will affect Fionnuala. She is the reigning champion and will use that to her advantage.”
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