Recently crowned Irish national cross-country champion Michelle Finn has said that Covid enforced changes to the racing calendar have left her hunting the possibility of competing at a third Olympic Games.
The Leevale AC runner will be one of Ireland's main hopes in Sunday’s women’s race at the Spar European Cross-Country Championships in Fingal, and the Cork athlete has said that recent results have opened the possibility to extending her career.
Finn competed in the 3000m steeplechase at the 2016 Rio Games and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and the fact that the latter was held a year later due to the pandemic has altered her thinking.
She also ran a lifetime best in the 3,000m steeplechase at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland in June, taking nine seconds off her previous best to finish in 9:29.25. That time is less than a second off Róisín McGettigan’s long-standing Irish record of 9:28.29 set back in 2007 in the Netherlands.
Finn, who turns 32 next week, had originally planned to retire after the Tokyo Games and while she is not looking too far ahead, she said that Paris 2024 was on her radar.
"I think I’m more thinking about this year, Worlds and Europeans on the track, going one year at a time," she said.
"Before Tokyo, in 2019, I was thinking I’d make Tokyo and then I’m absolutely retiring. Then it turned out to be 2021, I’m actually getting faster, so I’m not retiring. It’s three years to Paris and I don’t see myself retiring before that but I’m definitely more focused on the summer coming, rather than 2024."
Finn finished ninth place in her heat in a time of 9:36.26 in Tokyo and revealed that she required treatment for a kidney infection in the days after that run.
"I got a kidney infection, ended up taking an antibiotic, but I wasn’t thinking that on the line, it was just how quickly it progressed after.
"Even warming up with Feidhlim [Kelly, her coach], I knew I had half an infection on the day, even though I didn’t feel sick."
She enters Sunday’s race in fine fettle though, especially after her performance at the Nationals at Santry Demesne last month, a win that cemented her spot on the Irish team for the European cross-country event at Abbottstown.
It was a dominant display and despite a late charge from Sarah Healy, Finn has 12 seconds to spare at the finish.
The women’s race carries with it a highly competitive field and Healy’s initial aim is to break into the top 20 and see what happens from there.
"I’ll have to talk to Feidhlim and look through the entries and see what I can do, but hopefully we’ll get a good team result. The highest I ever finished was 23rd so I’d like to finish higher than that anyway, definitely."
"People will definitely come up and watch, I’ve lots of friends coming up and I’d say there’ll be good support, the National Cross had loads of support. There’s always loads of good Irish support even when it’s not on in Ireland so I imagine it’ll be really good when it is in Ireland."
While Finn qualified in fine style, she said that one of her main aims now is to make her mark at the business end of these big events, and she’s hoping for a strong home performance this weekend.
"I think maybe one of the reasons I was so consistent is that I wasn’t performing at my very best.
"Like I’ve made so many different championships, and I’m always disappointed. I feel it’s easy to be consistent when you’re running 80% of your ability, or something like that. I kind of feel I was making these championships, but not really doing anything good.
"I’m not injury prone, and feel I’ve a good idea when to push hard, when to ease back, not tip over the line. That’s one of my better strengths as a runner, just stay in one piece, which is one of the main things in staying consistent.
"But I also think in order to get better I do need to push on a bit, and hopefully I can do that this year."
She shouldn’t be short of motivation anyway. After being a regular in this competition, a fifth-placed finish in the Nationals wasn’t enough for a spot at the 2019 event held in Portugal. That sense of missing out was only compounded by a silver medal for the women’s team in Lisbon.
With the 2020 event in Dublin cancelled due to the pandemic, this is Finn’s first chance to make amends and she is delighted to have the opportunity.
"I think I had made five European cross-country teams in a row and missed out in 2019 and I think I was fitter in 2019 than any of the previous five years so I knew what it felt like to miss out on a Euro Cross team and to be that disappointed so I was like, nothing I do on this day is going to make me more disappointed," she said of her mindset for the Nationals.
"Obviously, I want to really run European cross-country but I wanted to run well and I was like, I’m going to take a risk because if I die and miss out again, I’ve been there before. I was confident I was fit enough. It made me prepared to take the risk."
Follow the European Cross-Country Championships live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player this Sunday from 9.30am.