Fionnuala McCormack named Sportswoman of the Month for December

McCormack is the first Irish woman to qualify for the Olympic Games for a fifth successive time

It says something of the longevity – and excellence – of Fionnuala McCormack that her name first appeared on our list of monthly award winners as far back as 2006. Only one other woman who featured that year is still competing at the highest level of her sport: Katie Taylor. There must be something in the Wicklow air.

In the 18 years since that first award, McCormack has been no stranger to making Irish sporting history, no woman representing Ireland more in athletics – she’s now up to 44 caps, 11 ahead of Sonia O’Sullivan who is next on the list. And, in the first weekend of December, she made some more when she ran inside the Olympic marathon qualifying time in Valencia to become the first Irish woman to qualify for the Games for a fifth successive time.

That feat was all the more remarkable given that it was only back in May that McCormack, who turned 39 in September, gave birth to her third child. Add in the fact that the qualifying time for Paris was almost three minutes faster than it was for Tokyo, and you get a measure of the achievement.

McCormack’s four previous Olympic appearances came in four different events: the 3,000m steeplechase in Beijing in 2008, the 5,000m and 10,000m in London in 2012, and the marathon in Rio in 2016 and the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021. She matched O’Sullivan and race walker Olive Loughnane in Tokyo as the only Irish women to compete in four Olympics, but come Paris she will be out on her own.


That, you would imagine, would have been enough to be achieving for one year, but just a week later McCormack was leading Ireland’s efforts at the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels. It was her 18th appearance in the event, from junior upwards, having won the senior title in 2011 and 2012.

And, agonisingly, she finished fourth in the race for the fifth time, just 18 seconds away from a medal and a mere 1:20 behind Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal who won her third successive title. Frustrating, needless to say, but motivating? “I really want to be on that podium again,” McCormack said. “I’m going to have to come back again now so.” Yes.

She’ll have another couple of podiums to target in the months ahead, starting with the World Cross Country Championships in Serbia in March and, of course, the Olympic Games come the summer.

A career like few others.

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Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times