One of Ireland’s most decorated athletes, Sonia O’Sullivan gives AW a look into her 1993 diary at the training that saw her bring back a silver medal from the Stuttgart World Championships
After narrowly missing a medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where she finished fourth, Sonia O’Sullivan made changes to her training programme that she hoped would bring back a global medal the following year.
“Following the Olympics, I continued to beat all of the girls that finished ahead of me in the Olympics,” O’Sullivan recalls. “I went into that winter confident that I would be more competitive to get a medal in the 1993 World Championships.”
Weekly training logs were backed up with many similar sessions throughout the season; consistency of training was fundamental to O’Sullivan running fast. Much of her training during the early part of the season was done alone, although she found herself with numerous training partners once the racing season began. “I also did some training with the Kenyan girls when they were over,” she says. “But it was usually a struggle to get them to stick to the recovery times.”
Steady runs weren’t guided by the luxury of Garmin and GPS watches, but by repetitive laps of nearby Bushy Park in Teddington, London, where she was based at the time.
These runs, she says, were her ‘killer’ sessions, the marker that proved she was in better shape than ever. “That park was a guide to my fitness,” says O’Sullivan. “It was a little less than seven miles around the perimeter and we had the miles measured out by bike and marked on to the trees. The lap was always a perfect indicator of where I was fitness-wise. If I was comfortably running under 40 minutes around Bushy Park – I knew I was in shape.”
“The lap was always a perfect indicator of where I was fitness-wise. If I was comfortably running under 40 minutes around Bushy Park – I knew I was in shape”
With the ‘fastest lap’ times recorded on the wall of her physical therapist Gerard Hartmann’s clinic, the Bushy Park top 10 list became a who’s who of elite athletes. “I think my all-time record was around 36 minutes,” she says. “I set it after the World Cross Country in 1998.”
Training specifically for the 3000m and “running a lot more track sessions between May and September than any other time of the year” created a perfect mix of speed and endurance. “I always felt a little less comfortable over the 1500m, as it was on the lower extreme of my distance and so for me, the 3000m was perfect,” O’Sullivan says.
That summer kicked off with a strong performance over the 3000m when she set a huge PB of 8:33.40, beating reigning Olympic champion, Olga Romanova. It was the perfect start toward her World Championships campaign, but competition was fierce.
O’Sullivan admits that “things changed drastically” when the Chinese athletes appeared at the World Championships, running much faster than ever before.
The controversial ‘Ma’s Army’ athletes took away her dreams of a medal in the 3000m with a Chinese one-two-three. However, she fought to take the silver medal over the 1500m behind another Chinese athlete, Lui Dong. Recent reports claim that the athletes, trained under the deeply regimented coach Ma Junren, have admitted to doping. If proven to be the case, O’Sullivan could end up with not one, but possibly two gold medals from the 1993 championships.
Below are two excerpts from O’Sullivan’s 1993 training diary showing a typical week within her summer racing schedule.
The last training log is just three weeks before she took the 1500m silver medal at the World Championships in Stuttgart.
SONIA O’SULLIVAN’S TRAINING SESSIONS FROM THE LEAD UP TO THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS IN STUTTGART IN 1993
Monday July 12: 50min easy around Bushy Park with Kathy. Felt good today. 40min around Bushy Park backwards. 13 miles
Tuesday July 13: 2 miles warm up. 4x1000m – 2:48, 2:49, 2:50, 2:55. 5x200m in 32sec. Recovery 2min. Didn’t feel great. Throat sore, tired. 3 miles warm down, decent pace. Felt a lot better afterwards. 25min easy jogging. 12 miles
Wednesday July 14: Ran for 50min in Scotland up some hills around the mountain. 35min easy jogging through Bushy Park. Lifted weights 20min. 12 miles
Thursday July 15: 15min warm up. 2x200m 32sec. 8x400m 90sec recovery – 62.9, 61.7, 61.8, 60.9, 62.5, 62.4, 62.9, 62.5. 20min easy jogging. Felt really good. 30min easy jogging in the rain. So much better than Tuesday. 11 miles
Friday July 16: Richmond Park loop 40min pretty easy. 30min really easy jogging. 10 miles
Saturday July 17: 20min decent, 20min fartlek, 20min warm down. Felt really good. Same loop as with Frank. 20min easy and some fast strides! 13 miles
Sunday July 18: Travelled to Nice. Early AM. Slept in afternoon. 56min along waterfront with Kathy. 9 miles
Monday July 26: Travelled back to London. Ran for one hour with Marcus, some with Kim. Felt okay, nice and easy pace. 9 miles
Tuesday July 27: 5.5 miles with Marcus early in the morning. Lunch in Cork, Jury’s. 4 miles easy and some high knees etc. 9.5 miles
Wednesday July 28: 20min easy running at Cricket Club. 2 miles warm-up. 2x200m – 31,30. 2 sets of 1000m-600m-400m, 400m jog recovery – 2:42, 1:36, 61 and 2:48, 1:38, 62. 2x200m easy. 3 miles warm down. Felt good but a bit alone on the second set.
Thursday July 29: Ran 5 miles with Marcus in the morning, nice and easy. Ran 5 miles around Bushy Park, nice and easy. Some light weights. 10 miles
Friday July 30: 3 morning miles in the cricket club. 2 miles warm up. 2x200m 31, 30. 6x300m – 45.3, 44.9, 44.3, 44.7, 45.4, 44,99. 2x200m 29, 30. Felt good and relaxed. 3 miles warm down. 10 miles
Saturday July 31: 45min easy running through Richmond Park, nice and easy. 7 miles
Sunday August 1: 2.5 miles warm up. 12x200m, 200m jog – 32, 31, 28.2, 29.4, 29.14, 29.15, 28.97, 28.96, 28.6, 28.7, 32.3, 32.5. 3 miles warm down. 20min easy jogging around the cricket club. 11 miles