Athletics News

Innes FitzGerald’s refusal to fly divides opinion

Innes FitzGerald's refusal to fly divides opinion

Young British distance runner puts environment ahead of athletics ambition but it won’t stop her making her mark in the sport

Innes FitzGerald’s decision to reject the chance to race at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst next month because it would involve flying from the UK to Australia has divided opinion. Some have applauded her stance whereas others have ridiculed it.

Criticisms range from “the plane will fly with or without her” to “she sounds brainwashed” to “she may as well hang up her spikes now”.

After all, the European Under-20 Championships this year are in Jerusalem – the same city she refused to consider flying to last year for the European Under-18 Championships – whereas the next World Under-20 Championships are in Peru in 2024.

The 16-year-old has been running competitively for little over a year but has shown immense potential. Last summer she sliced nine seconds off Jess Warner-Judd’s UK under-17 record for 3000m of 8:59.67 when winning the British schools title in Belfast.

After claiming a Mini London Marathon title in October she enjoyed a runaway victory at the British Athletics Cross Challenge in Liverpool in November, beating much older athletes as she stormed around Sefton Park. Then, at the European Cross Country Championships, she once again blasted into the lead before finally being overhauled in the latter stages as Maria Forero of Spain, who is three years older than FitzGerald, took gold with the Briton fourth.

Innes Fitzgerald and Maria Forero (Mark Shearman)

The news that FitzGerald had taken the train from her home near Exeter in Devon to Turin in Italy that weekend began as a crazy rumour but it soon emerged to be true. She had taken overnight coach and then train to the championships along with a fold-up bike to get from station to station. Given the travel disruptions en route she later admitted it may have affected her performance.

It has not affected her decision to put the environment ahead of her athletics ambitions, though. On the prospect of racing in Australia next month she says “the reality of the travel fills me with deep concern”.

Given this, is she wasting her time trying to be an athlete? Not at all.

For starters she won an international cross-country race in Belgium on Sunday (Jan 22) when she finished a full minute ahead of fellow English athlete Rebecca Flaherty at the Belgian CrossCup meeting in Hannut, a small city near Brussels.

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