Nostalgia: When Sonia won silver at Sydney

Nostalgia: When Sonia won silver at Sydney

Sonia O'Sullivan after being presented with her silver medal in the Sydney Olympics, 2000. Photo: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

IT’S been just over 20 years since Sonia O’Sullivan won silver in the Olympics – a landmark day in Irish sporting history.

On September 25, 2000, the nation was collectively holding its breath as the Cork athlete took to the track in Sydney, Australia in her Olympic bid.

The atmosphere in O’Sullivan’s home town of Cobh was palpable as locals huddled around their televisions at home and at work to see if her dreams would be realised.

After battling in the 5,000 metres, O’Sullivan brilliantly finished second pipped by just 23 hundredths of a second by Romanian athlete Gabriela Szabo who won the gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Photo: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
After battling in the 5,000 metres, O’Sullivan brilliantly finished second pipped by just 23 hundredths of a second by Romanian athlete Gabriela Szabo who won the gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Photo: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

After battling in the 5,000 metres, O’Sullivan brilliantly finished second, pipped by just 23 hundredths of a second by Romanian athlete Gabriela Szabo who won the gold.

Two decades on, O’Sullivan’s historic achievement was celebrated in a commemorative run in aid of Cobh Community Hospital.

The first run of the day took place at 10:55am, the exact time Sonia started her Olympic run.

O’Sullivan herself took part in the fun run, starting at Cobh Hospital, through the streets of Cobh to her statue in the town centre, which was unveiled in 2015.

Speaking ahead of the run O’Sullivan said it’s hard to believe so much time has passed since her Olympic silver medal win.

Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan speaking to journalists after she won a silver medal in the Women's 5000m. Stadium Australia, Sydney Olympic Park.  Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan speaking to journalists after she won a silver medal in the Women's 5000m. Stadium Australia, Sydney Olympic Park.  Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

"The Cobh Community Hospital provides a vital service to the area and I am thrilled that we have been able to organise this fundraising fun run. 

"It’s hard to believe that it’s 20 years since the Sydney Olympics and what a great way to remember that wonderful day," she said.

She also paid tribute to Eurospar Cobh, Ballymore AC club and the Friends of Cobh Hospital for making the event possible.

In 1993 Sonia finished runner-up in the final of 1500m at the World Championships in Stuttgart. Photo: ©INPHO
In 1993 Sonia finished runner-up in the final of 1500m at the World Championships in Stuttgart. Photo: ©INPHO

Of course, the silver medal at Sydney was just one of a slew of incredible achievements during O’Sullivan’s career.

She first came to prominence at the 1991 World Student Games when she hit the headlines, winning gold in the 1,500m and a silver in the 3,000m.

In 1993 she finished runner-up in the final of 1500m at the World Championships in Stuttgart.

The following year, she won gold in the 3,000 metres European Championships in Helsinki.

An Echo article on August 12, 1994, captured the sense of euphoria in Cobh following her victory.

"The county Cork town of Cobh have every reason to celebrate this week with their own local girl making history in Helsinki, watched by millions throughout Europe.

"It was a joy to see Sonia O’Sullivan carry the Irish tricolour on a lap of honour around the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday evening," the article stated.

Sonia O'Sullivan with the gold medal and Yvonne Murray of Great Britain with the silver medal for the Women's 3,000m at the European Championships in Helsinki. Photo: Clive Brunskill
Sonia O'Sullivan with the gold medal and Yvonne Murray of Great Britain with the silver medal for the Women's 3,000m at the European Championships in Helsinki. Photo: Clive Brunskill

"This was sweet revenge for the 24-year-old athlete after her disappointment in the 1992 Olympics," the piece continued.

O'Sullivan made history that day by becoming the first Irish woman to win a gold medal at the European Championships. 

Among her other achievements are three world titles - 5,000m on the track in Gothenburg in 1995 and double world cross gold in Marrakech in 1998.

O’Sullivan announced her retirement from athletics in April 2007 after competing in the Great Bupa Run in Dublin.

Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan with the silver medal she won in the Women's 10,000m in 2002. Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan with the silver medal she won in the Women's 10,000m in 2002. Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Two years prior she was awarded the Freedom of the City of Cork, along with footballer Roy Keane at a ceremony in City Hall. 

In 2019, O’Sullivan’s incredible sporting career was recognised during the RTÉ Sport Awards when she was unveiled as the RTÉ Sports Hall of Fame Award winner.

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