Athletes come and go through teams and cities. Some stay in the spotlight while others can be lost with the passage of time.

It is about those latter athletes we ask: Where Are They Now?


Then: Varsity Club Hall of Fame distance runner at Villanova University.

Now:  Coach, media personality, author, and  philanthropist.

Considering the storied history of track and field at Villanova University, it can be difficult for any particular athlete to stand out.

Sonia O'Sullivan, however, can sit at the head table with the best.

Born and raised in Cobh in Cork County, Ireland, O'Sullivan followed in the tradition of Irish runners coming to the Main Line.

She was a 10-time Big East champion and three-time NCAA champion. She led Villanova to three straight national titles in cross-country from 1989 to 1991. Sullivan was the NCAA individual champion in 1990 and 1991.

Graduating with a degree in accounting, O'Sullivan represented Ireland at the 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympics. She won the silver medal in the 5,000 meters at the Sydney Games in 2000.

She is one of three Wildcats to participate in four Olympic Games.

Villanova Sports

"Growing up in Cobh, I did a lot of my training by myself," said O'Sullivan, who also has three World Championship and three European Championship gold medals. "I became aware of Irish athletes going to college in America on scholarship and this sounded very attractive to me to have other girls to train with and be a part of a team and also get to go to college and further my education.

"There was a well-known pipeline of Irish athletes that took up scholarships in Villanova. Many athletes that I looked up to and took inspiration from, Ronnie Delaney, Eamonn Coghlan, Marcus O'Sullivan, to name a few. …  I was the first Irish female track-and-field athlete to go to Villanova."

An icon in Ireland, O'Sullivan still holds the world record in the 2,000 meters and every Irish distance running record from 1,000 meters to half-marathon.

"I didn't realize when I was competing how much of an inspiration that I had been to many Irish sportswomen," said O'Sullivan, who lives in Australia with her family but often travels to Ireland. "Only now when I attend events in Ireland and meet Irish women whose lives have been changed by sport do I see the impact my success had on so many Irish women.

"It gives me great pride now to see Irish women competing at such a high level on the world and Olympic stages."

A bronze statue of Sonia O’Sullivan iwas unveiled in her hometown in 2015.
Irish Examiner
A bronze statue of Sonia O’Sullivan iwas unveiled in her hometown in 2015.

The author of two books, O'Sullivan coaches athletics at a school in Melbourne. She writes a weekly column on sports for the Irish Times and routinely does commentary on track-and-field events for RTE Television.

"After spending many years traveling and racing, I spent more time in Melbourne when my daughters – Ciara, 19, and Sophie, 16 — were in high school," she said. "Ciara is now studying international politics at Melbourne University and Sophie is in Year 11 [of high school]."

Sophie is also on the rise as a world-class runner.

Having dual citizenship, Sophie made her international debut by competing for Ireland at the 2018 European U-18 Championships in July in Hungary. She won the silver medal in the 800 meters.

Her mother presented her medal to her.

Irish Times

"I was really happy to see Sophie run for Ireland and do so well this summer at the European Youth Championships," said O'Sullivan, adding the last chance she had of beating her daughter was before she turned 13.

Could another O'Sullivan be coming to the Main Line in a couple of years?

"It would be great to see Sophie run at Villanova; she has been thinking about attending college in the U.S.," Sonia said. "It's a big decision to make and I will support Sophie whatever decision she makes for her future after high school."