Wednesday 23 May 2018

Irish athlete vents frustration after Kenyan-born runner takes national title in Dublin marathon

Freddy Sittuk of Raheny Shamrock after crossing the line to be the first Irish finisher in the men's category after the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon 2017 in Dublin City. 20,000 runners took to the Fitzwilliam Square start line to participate in the 38th running of the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon, making it the fifth largest marathon in Europe. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Freddy Sittuk of Raheny Shamrock after crossing the line to be the first Irish finisher in the men's category after the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon 2017 in Dublin City. 20,000 runners took to the Fitzwilliam Square start line to participate in the 38th running of the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon, making it the fifth largest marathon in Europe. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Bernard Rotich cannot hide his joy as he crosses the line first in 2:16.05 to win the overall men’s title and the national championship. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

Kenya's Bernard Rotich and Ukraine's Nataliya Lehonkova won the main titles and €12,000 each in the sun-kissed 38th SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon yesterday which attracted a record crowd of 20,000.

But there was some controversy behind them when another Kenyan was crowned Irish men's marathon champion.

The Dublin marathon also doubles as Athletics Ireland's national championships, a title that is particularly coveted by elite Irish athletes - and not just because it is worth €3,500.

The man who became Irish marathon champion yesterday was Freddy Sittuk, who was fourth overall in the race with a time of two hours, 16 minutes and five seconds.

Defending Irish champion Sergiu Ciobanu. Photo by Tomás Greally/Sportsfile
Defending Irish champion Sergiu Ciobanu. Photo by Tomás Greally/Sportsfile

Sittuk is from the legendary Kenyan running area of Iten and is well known in Irish running circles as he has been running for Raheny Shamrocks since 2012 and raced in their colours again yesterday.

But his victory was contentious because he does not live in Ireland permanently or have Irish nationality.

He qualified to compete in the national championship because, at Athletics Ireland's 2016 Congress, it was voted that an unbroken six-month residency here is all that is needed to compete for this title.

The Louthman who came second behind him said he was unaware of this rule and that the time-frame was far too short.

Dundalk veteran Gary O'Hanlon (43) ran the race of his life, finishing in 11th place in 2:18.52 which knocked a minute off his personal best.

He raised his arms in jubilation as he crossed the finishing line believing he was the new Irish champion, only to quickly discover that Sittuk had relegated him to runner-up.

"I was sure I'd won the national championship," O'Hanlon said. "I don't mean to knock it but this just opens the gate for everyone. The country could be flooded with people coming in to win our national title."

With three miles to go he came from behind to overtake defending Irish champion Sergiu Ciobanu and then Stephen Scullion.

He said he had asked about Sittuk's status when he checked in with a race organiser on the eve of the race and was told the Kenyan could only take silver even if he finished ahead of him, which was the previous rule for non-residents running for Irish clubs.

The chairman of Athletics Ireland's Competition Committee John Cronin said the federation only became aware that Sittuk had entered the national championships when they got the final entry list late on Friday and had informed the marathon organisers of this on Saturday.

Athletics Ireland sent out a tweet on Saturday night to confirm Sittuk's eligibility but that seemed to have gone over people's heads.

"I never factored in Freddy. I could have gone quicker if I'd known it," O'Hanlon said.

Asked if he regarded himself as Irish champion, Sittuk smiled and said: "I think yes, it's fair because I have run for Raheny since 2012 and I have competed for them in cross-country and also in the national half-marathon championship."

He has lived in Ireland on and off since then and for over a year at one point.

Raced

Moldovan-born Ciobanu has won four Irish marathon titles but has lived here for over a decade and has raced internationally for Ireland.

He was disappointed to finish 11th (2:19.05) for national bronze. Sittuk's eligibility meant Scullion (12th in 2:19.44) missed out a medal.

The elite women's race was nothing as close as 2015 Dublin winner Lehonkova won again in 2:28.57, over five minutes clear of Ethiopia's Ashu Kasim (2:34.35) and fellow Ukrainian Viktoriya Khapilina (02.35.54).

Just three minutes behind them in fourth place and retaining her Irish title was Mourne Runners' Laura Graham.

Her 2:39.06 was two minutes slower than her PB in Berlin last month and just six seconds short of the 2018 European Championships but she was delighted after suffering from a vomiting bug in the build-up.

Letterkenny's Caitriona Jennings was the second Irishwoman home and fifth overall in 2:42.36 and three places behind her was veteran extraordinaire Pauline Curley (48) of Tullamore.

Kildare's Rio Paralympian Pat Monahan comfortably retained his wheelchair title in 1:49.55.

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