Sonia O’Sullivan has agreed to take up a new assistant coaching role with a training group based in Portland, beginning this week, initially in the run up to and including the Olympics.
It will see O’Sullivan move from her current home in Melbourne to the US on Thursday, her new role as assistant coach to affording her the chance to work with some of the best distance runners in the world.
Describing the role as “exciting and challenging”, O’Sullivan is also looking forward to the chance to “have some purpose again in big time athletics”.
The move, only confirmed in recent weeks, will also bring O’Sullivan closer to her daughter Sophie, currently in her first year at the University of Washington on scholarship.
“It all evolved quite quickly, and once we started talking, it felt like an instinctual decision for me, something I felt I’d like to do,” says O’Sullivan. “I won’t know what it’s fully about until I’m out there, but to be a part of a fully professional set-up, with a good budget behind them, to get the best possible out of the athletes, is something I’m excited about.
“There are currently 10 athletes in the group, Pete Julian as head coach, they also have a strength and conditioning coach, and his athletes range from 800m up to the marathon, so there’s a lot of diversity there, they don’t all train together, on different days and in different places, so he can’t always be there. And this was the perfect opportunity to go and do something that I’ve not really had a chance to do, ever.
“It’s a way for me to travel again in an Olympic year, even though it’s very nice here in Melbourne with no Covid restrictions, it feels very far from the action. Every year I’ve had events in Ireland that I work with and the main athletics championships to look forward to, this past year has been so unpredictable my normal schedule has been put on hold.
“It also definitely helped that it’s pretty close to where Sophie is going to college, two and a half hours away, so that swayed things a bit too, because of the times we’re in, it’s so difficult to get back in or out of , and it’s still unknown when she can next get back to Australia.”
Julian was previously an assistant coach with the Nike Oregon Project, run out of the Nike headquarters in , Oregon but which was disbanded in 2019 in the immediate aftermath of a four-year ban handed down to then head coach for doping offences. With that Julian, in no way implicated in any of those offences, started up his own training group with some of the athletes already under his guidance, including top US 800m runner and Tokyo gold medal favourite .
For O’Sullivan, the 2000 Olympic silver medallist over 5,000 metres who won 13 major championships medals in all, the initial three-month agreement would see her through to the Tokyo Olympics. Also in the group are two international women athletes from Australia in , and Germany’s , Japanese Tokyo Olympic athlete Suguru Osaka, the remaining seven being American.
“The main target for the American athletes will be the US Olympic Trials, and then after that there is a small circuit of American meetings, so that they don’t have to travel to . ”
There were already two parts to the Nike Oregon Project, before it was disbanded: “They’re still working on a new name, just haven’t decided on that yet. There are two other Nike teams out there as well, the Bowerman Track Club, which is the group also based in Portland, and then the Eugene-based Oregon Track Club, under . ”
O’Sullivan’s first chance to see some of the athletes in action will likely come this weekend at the USATF Grand Prix from Field in Eugene, the newly renovated venue for the 2022 World Athletics Championships, and the first stop on the 2021 World Athletics Tour (which is also being broadcast on TG4).
“Even though I’ve been involved with Nic Bideau’s (her husband) here, the Melbourne Track Club, and been to different training camps and know how it all works, it’s also the chance to do something different, be with a different group of athletes. That’s exciting, a challenge, and I’m a bit nervous as well, but when you haven’t had something like this in your life for a while it’s good to give it a go, and have some purpose again in big time athletics.”