Lee slashes personal best to stake a claim for Rio
Lizzie Lee became the fifth fastest Irish woman of all time when running 2:32.51 in the Berlin Marathon yesterday on a day when four Irish men also achieved the Olympic qualifying standard.
The 35-year-old from Cork, who took time out from the sport to give birth last year, carved more than five minutes off her previous best of 2:38.09 - well inside the Olympic mark of 2:42.00.
"I'm absolutely blown out of the park," said Lee. "My goal was 2:33.00. It was horrendous over the last few miles - the hardest thing I've ever done, but I just dug in. I couldn't be happier. Fingers crossed I'll secure selection for Rio now."
There were 10 Irish entrants in the elite men's race, four of whom ran under the Olympic standard of 2:17.00.
They were led home by Kevin Seaward of St Malachy's in 2:14.52. Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge won the race in 2:04.00.
"The first 5K felt really fast but as the race went on it settled and everything felt good from there," said Seaward. "I didn't think I could go inside 2:15."
Second-best of the Irish was Sergiu Ciobanu, a former Moldovan who was recently granted Irish citizenship. He finished in 2:15.14.
"There was a great group and we worked together," said Ciobanu, a former Irish marathon champion.
Behind Ciobanu, there was a key head-to-head duel between Paul Pollock and Mick Clohisey.
The pair ran together through the famed Brandenburg gate inside the final quarter-mile and it was Clohisey who proved stronger at the finish, edging Pollock by three seconds as he clocked 2:15.35.
"It's a two-minute improvement on my personal best, so I have to be happy," said Clohisey. "With so many Irish in the race, it gave it a real trial feel. I thought I might be able to pick it up the second half but I underestimated the distance and in the latter stages I started to struggle."
Pollock, meanwhile, was left to curse an ill-timed quad injury, which hampered his preparations.
"Three weeks ago I had an 11cm tear in my quad, so I wasn't able to run for about 10 days," he said. "I tried to sprint at the finish, but everything just seized up and I walked across the line. I'm gutted to be only fourth-best Irish man. I'll have to re-assess and probably do a spring marathon."
Yesterday's race brings to five the number of Irish athletes qualified for the men's marathon at the Olympics, but Martin Fagan, who ran 2:16.09 earlier this year, is unlikely to be there, having announced his retirement in June.
With only three places on offer for Rio next year, the selectors now have the luxury of choice and Pollock may not be the only athlete contemplating a spring marathon. Galway's Gary Thornton (2:17.19) just missed out yesterday, while Sean Hehir ran 2:17.48.
Belfast's Breege Connolly has already achieved the women's qualifying mark, having ran 2:37.29 in London last April.
Fionnuala McCormack (Britton) will run the Chicago Marathon on October 11, while Maria McCambridge is due to compete in the Frankfurt Marathon on October 25.