Popular Irish champions steal show in the capital
It was a case of third time lucky for Asefa Bekele when he finally won the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon yesterday.
The 26-year-old Ethiopian had twice finished third - last year and in 2015 - so when a seven-man lead group broke up in the final two miles and it came down to a three-man battle between himself, South African David Manja and Kenyan Joel Kiptoo, he had only one thing on his mind.
"Today I am first, my big aim this year was to win and I am very happy," Bekele said after out-sprinting his rivals to win in 2:13.24 - a personal best - and take home the €12,000 prize.
Manja was equally delighted to finish just nine seconds adrift on his marathon debut and Kiptoo took third, more than 30 seconds ahead of defending champion Bernard Rotich.
But the big story of the 39th running of the 'Friendly Marathon' came from the Irish.
Popular Dubliner Mick Clohisey (32), running his hometown marathon for the first time, crossed the line sixth in 2:15.58 to also become Irish champion - the fastest time to win that title since Tommy Hughes's 2:14.46 in 1991.
An equally popular first-time Irish champion was Cork woman Lizzie Lee who not only won the Irish title but also finished third overall in the women's race, in a time of 2:35.05.
As impressive as the performances were by both Irish champions, neither were personal bests. Clohisey ran 2:14.55 in Seville this year and has two previous 2:15s, while Lee ran sub-2:33 in 2015 - yet they were fast times for Dublin and particularly special.
Clohisey, who combines training with a career in coaching, led the race in the early stages when the visiting African contingent kept their powder dry and let American Seth Totten set the pace.
"The lads picked it up when we left the park and I lost touch and was on my own for a good bit and I had to take a pit-stop at Terenure College," Clohisey revealed.
"Thankfully it didn't take too much time out of me and I got going again and managed to reel off about six or seven lads from about 18 miles on.
"It'll take a while to sink in. My coach (Dick Hooper) is famous for this event, he was the first three-time winner, so I've always wanted to run it but had put it off the last few years because it clashed with major championships.
"Thankfully everything went to plan. It's great for my family who, with my wife Cróna, were all out on the streets and I had great support.
"Winning a national title really means a lot. I've won the (national) cross-country, 10km and half-marathon before and it means a lot to Raheny (his club) where there's such a tradition, so it should be good going back over to the northside later."
Defending Irish champion Gary O'Hanlon was Irish runner-up and 10th overall in an almost two-minute PB of 2:17.11, one place ahead of former four-time champion Sergiu Ciobanu (2:17.28).
The overall women's title was won by Mesera Dubiso in 2:33.49, ahead of her Ethiopian compatriot Motu Gedefa (2:34.22), but Lee's ability to track and join them around the 17th mile was impressive.
The 38-year-old burst into tears on finishing, hugging her coach Donie Walsh and describing her third place as "redemption" for her disappointing 2:40 run in the European Championships in August.
"Donie won the national title in 1972 and now I've won it. I had a dream race, just couldn't keep with them in the last two miles, but I got it right tactically and to get on the overall podium, an Irishwoman, I'm pinching myself," Lee said.
"I'm a mom of two small girls (aged four and 16 months), I work full-time and running is my hobby and I'm on a podium with two Ethiopian girls who probably train full-time."
Lee's winning time was the fastest since Maria McCambridge's 2:34.19 in 2014, and only four seconds adrift of the Kenyan winner.
She came home nearly six minutes clear of Letterkenny's Caitriona Jennings, who was sixth overall, and her Leevale team-mate Jill Hodgins.
Meanwhile, Patrick Monahan's bid for a fifth wheelchair victory was foiled by England's Commonwealth silver medallist Johnboy Smith (1:36.12), but the Kildare Paralympian said finishing second (in 1:38.29) in a world-class field like yesterday's was much more preferable than some of his previous facile victories.