Sophie O'Sullivan: Following in Legendary Olympian Footsteps

July 04, 2024

By Phil Knox

Family Legacy and Early Promise

In the world of Irish athletics, Sophie O'Sullivan's name carries significant weight. Sophie was born into a family deeply rooted in athletics, with her mother Sonia O'Sullivan being one of Ireland's most celebrated athletes and her father Nic Bideau a renowned coach.

Sophie wasn't always keen on the inevitable comparisons to her famous mum. "When I was younger, I wanted to do my own thing," Sophie admitted in an interview with European Athletics in July 2023. Initially more interested in basketball and soccer during her childhood in Melbourne, Australia, Sophie discovered her talent for running in high school.

During her early athletic endeavours, Sophie often competed in Australian underage nationals, where she initially faced challenges and often exited in the heats. However, in 2017, she achieved a significant breakthrough by securing the Australian U17 800m title with a time of 2:10.00. Later, on her 16th birthday, she set a remarkable personal best of 2:06.29 in the same event.

Representing Ireland and the Beginnings of Success on the World Stage

Given her dual citizenship, Sophie had to choose her allegiance competing on the international stage: whether to represent Ireland or Australia. In the end, Sophie chose to represent Ireland internationally. This decision was warmly received by Irish athletics fans, who saw in her the continuation of a proud legacy.

Her breakthrough moment came in 2018 when she won silver in the 800m at the European U18 Championships in Győr, Hungary. This achievement confirmed her status as a rising star and highlighted her future potential.

Collegiate Success and Further Development

Her success in Győr caught the attention of many US colleges, renowned for churning out top Irish athletes with stellar education and training facilities over the years.

Ultimately, she accepted a scholarship to the University of Washington, where she pursued a degree in journalism. Under the guidance of coach Maurica Powell, Sophie progressed at an impressive rate in the collegiate circuit, regularly competing against top-tier athletes and improving her personal bests over 800m, 1500m and the mile distances.

Graduating from the University of Washington last month and now with her degree in hand, Sophie's focus can be squarely on representing Ireland globally.

Qualification for Paris 2024

Sophie's ticket to the Paris 2024 Olympics was punched after as a result of a series of top-notch performances in 2023.

After wrapping up her US college track season, she turned her attention to events closer to home. She kicked off the summer with a win in the 800m at the Irish U23 Nationals in Tullamore in July.

Later that month, her career hit a new high when she snagged gold at the U23 European Athletics Championships in Espoo, Finland. She edged out fellow Paris 2024 1500m Olympian Sarah Healy, marking a memorable one-two for Ireland in the event.

Just over a month later at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, O’Sullivan finished 8th in the 1500m. Although she did not qualify for the final, Sophie slashed nearly five seconds off her personal best with a time of 4:02.15, securing her automatic qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympics, set to take place eleven months later.

In September of that year she capped the season on a high, breaking the Irish under-23 3000m record at a meet in Italy with a time of 8:44.72, the third-fastest ever by an Irish athlete, only behind Mary Cullen and her mother, Sonia O’Sullivan.

Reflecting on her 2023 season in a November 2023 interview with Athletics Weekly, O’Sullivan said: “I decided I was going to put my head down and really try hard to make something of my season. I wanted something good and I was going to get it”

The Road to Paris

In Olympic year, Sophie has continued to build on that momentum with solid performances at various meets both in the States and back home.

While her compatriots were competing at the European Athletics Championships in Rome in June 2024, O’Sullivan was instead competing at the 2024 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 1500m event. She recorded an impressive season’s best of 4:08.04 in the heats, but however finished back of the field in the final.

Only a few weeks later O'Sullivan bounced back, securing her first national senior title in the 1500m event at the Irish National Track and Field Championships, which took place last weekend.

While the 1500m Olympic event presents a significant step up in class for Sophie, with Ethiopian and Kenyan athletes likely to be favorites for podium finishes, alongside stiff competition from her compatriots like 2024 European Athletics Champion Ciara Mageean and Sarah Healy, this experience will undoubtedly be immensely beneficial for her athletics career. Competing at the Olympics at her age represents an important breakthrough, offering Sophie invaluable experience on the biggest world stage.


Sophie O'Sullivan's journey from a promising young athlete in Australia to an Olympian representing Ireland has been a testament to her grit and the support of her legendary family. Her story is all about ambition and hard work, blending her mum’s legacy with her own fierce determination.

We wish her every success in Paris.

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