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IRELAND'S GLORY AT SYDNEY 2000: Sonia will always be our golden girl, no matter what the colour of medal she wins.

SONIA O'Sullivan was still Cobh's Golden Girl yesterday, even though the colour of her Olympic 5,000m medal was silver.

Her home town erupted in a huge cheer as Sonia crossed the line in Sydney within touching distance of winner Gabriela Szabo of Romania.

Prior to the race, everyone prayed that the girl who put Cobh on the map could put the disappointment in Atlanta behind her and win a medal.

Every pub in the Cork Harbour town opened early and Irish flags flew proudly in honour of Sonia.

Fans packed as usual into John Mansworth's bar near Sonia's family home to cheer her on.

The excitement began to build, and there was a big cheer as the line-up for the final was introduced and Sonia appeared waving and looking relaxed.

Every move she made was watched with anticipation and sometimes with dread, especially when she dropped back to third last and the group of leading athletes appeared to be getting away from her.

She must have heard the cries of "Go on Sonia! You can do it girl!", because she soon moved up to join the leaders.

There were more and even louder cheers - and tears of joy - when she kicked in and moved up to cross the line in second place.

And when she ran her lap of honour proudly carrying the tricolour, emotions were stretched beyond endurance and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Pub boss John Mansworth, who was hoarse from cheering, said: "I am so delighted for Sonia. She has got an Olympic medal and it doesn't matter what colour it is.

"She really wanted to make an impact and she did it in style.

"She is the first Cobh person to get to the Olympics and we can't wait for her to come home and show the medal off.

"That was the old Sonia out there on that track. She ran a very tactical race and was very relaxed.

"It was the race of her life and she gave it everything. I am over the moon for her and her family."

Englishman Mike Clarke, who lives in Cobh, said: "When Sonia comes back home with her medal she will be our golden girl.

"She is just wonderful and deserves all the success she has had."

Local woman Rose O'Neill said she couldn't stop shaking while watching the race.

She said: "Now that it's over I'm still trembling. I met Sonia's aunt earlier in the street, and I wasn't surprised when she told me she couldn't watch the race.

"My own nerves are gone and I am not even related to Sonia.

"I am so glad and so happy for her. She deserves all the success she has in life. We are so proud of her and this is a great day to be from Cobh."

Christine Mullins from Glanmire travelled the few short miles to Cobh to enjoy the atmosphere and watch the race in Mansworth's - which was Sonia's late grandfather's local.

She said: "Sonia was absolutely brilliant and has answered all her critics. We always knew she had it in her and now she has an Olympic medal to prove it.

"I am so happy. When you think of how close the finish was, she was unlucky not to take gold. But silver will do us just fine.

In Wilmount Park, where the O'Sullivan family live, neighbours were just beginning to get over the shock of seeing one of their own take silver in the Olympics.

Flags, bunting, signs and teddy bears hung in almost every garden.

Frances McCarthy, who lives two doors away from the O'Sullivans, said: "We watched the television here in the house and no-one could move. She was absolutely wonderful and we will certainly be celebrating tonight.

Richard Hurley said he had been a friend of the family for years and knew Sonia from when she was very small.

He said: "She was so relaxed out there on this big occasion I just knew she was going to do well. It's great that she has put the horrors of Atlanta behind her.

"She is a credit to the town and to herself. I remember her when she was young. She was so determined and she achieved world class status with very little help from anyone.

"She is the absolute cream and today is a day of joy here in the park."

Next door neighbour Brian Gallagher, who is a pupil at Sonia's old school - Cobh Community School - is looking forward to the party when the family return from Sydney.

He said: "It's great living here because every time Sonia wins there is a party and we are all invited."

In the Commodore Hotel there was a huge gathering of old friends and neighbours who couldn't contain their tears.

Hotel co-owner Pat O'Shea said: "Sonia is a great woman and a shining example to the people of Cobh.

"It's just amazing to think she has achieved so much, having come from a small town like this.

"She has always had the support of the people and we will be looking forward to her coming home with that silver medal and perhaps one from the 10,000m.

"You can be sure the red carpet will be put down and the celebrations will go on for days."

Marian Smith, a friend of Sonia's mother Mary, couldn't hold back the tears as she spoke of her joy.

She said: "Sonia has been working so hard for this and I am delighted for her. She is a great girl."

Former school pal Teresa Walsh said Sonia had always been a lovely girl.

She added: "She has not changed one bit. Nothing has ever gone to her head and she has always remained the same old Sonia."

Now Cobh can't wait for tomorrow when Sonia's runs in the 10,000m.

John Mansworth said: "She has got her medal now and she has nothing to lose. Hopefully we will be celebrating on the double."
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Article Details
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Author:Mooney, Ann
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 26, 2000
Next Article:SYDNEY OLYMPICS 2000 : BEST FOR 50 YRS; Britain's heroes scoop record haul of medals.

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