Gemechu sprints to Dublin marathon glory as confusion surrounds Irish title
An Ethiopian was expected to win the SSE Airtricity Dublin marathon yesterday but not the one who actually took the crown.
Asefa Bekele is being tipped for big things in his athletics-mad home country and was expected to unveil a prodigious talent on his debut over the gruelling distance.
But he had to settle for third place behind his 20-year-old compatriot Alemu Gemechu when the race came down to a three-man dust-up in the final kilometre.
The two were part of a nine-man early breakaway group that was all African bar Russia's Stepan Kiselev but were largely content to let the latter and Kenya's Francis Ngare and Freddy Sittuk do most of the hard work until that close-knit lead group, which went through half-way in 67:06 minutes, started to finally splinter with just three miles remaining.
Sittuk was finally dropped after they crossed the Montrose flyover and then the cat-and-mouse game was down to just four, including defending champion Eliud Too.
It was only in the final half-mile that Gemechu got clear, producing a great sprint finish to win in 2:14.01, holding off Ngare by six seconds with Bekele taking third, 13 seconds behind and Too another half-minute adrift.
Gemechu became only the second Ethiopian to win the men's race, which has been dominated by Kenyans in recent years .
He was well outside his personal best (2:11 when third in Geneva last May) but the windy and drizzly conditions were not conducive to fast times and he was not complaining after bagging the $10,000 first prize.
There was some confusion at the finish over the status of Sittuk, the sixth man across the line in 2:15.19.
As a member of Raheny Shamrocks who had previously represented the club in national track and road relay championships, the Kenyan, who wore his Irish club singlet, was also eligible to compete in Athletics Ireland's national championships, which are run in conjunction with Dublin's mass participation.
However, the fact that he has neither an Irish passport or permanent residency disallowed him from winning the national title yesterday - instead, it went to Clare native Sean Hehir of Rathfarnham, who was ninth overall in 2:19.47.
It initially looked like Sittuk might be given silver - to which he said "that seems fair because I am still Kenyan but have an Irish club' - but AAI subsequently clarified that he could not win any Irish medal, so Clonliffe's Gary O'Hanlon (2:25.21) and David Mansfield (2:30.45) took silver and bronze.
Hehir, who also won Dublin in 2013, had raised eyebrows by racing the distance again just 29 days after narrowly missing out on Olympic qualification at the Berlin Marathon and his bid for 2:17 flat was thwarted again yesterday, largely by the weather. But the Inchicore primary school teacher insisted his gamble did him no physical harm and was still delighted to break 2:20 for the seventh time.
"In those conditions I'll take that," Hehir said.
"Credit to Freddy, he ran really well. I train with him, he's a great guy and there would have been no ill-feeling if he'd taken the title but I understand you have to be an Irish citizen to win it."
His closest opposition was expected to come from clubmate Barry Minnock and Eoin Callaghan but they didn't materialise, with the latter doing best in 16th in 2:31, half a minute off the bronze.
Instead it was Clonliffe's Gary O'Hanlon and David Mansfield who joined Hehir on the 'national' podium, the former taking silver (12th overall) with 2:25.21 and the latter bronze (15th overall) in 2:30.45.
Ukraine's Natalia Lehonkova won the women's race in 2:31.08, a minute clear of Kenya's Grace Momanyi and Ethiopia's Tesfanesh Denbi.
Emotional Tullamore veteran Pauline Curley (46) rolled back the years to finish ninth woman overall in 2:49.29 and win the Irish women's title.
"I'm overwhelmed," Curley said. "I had surgery on my knee, went back running too quickly and had to take four weeks rest before this. I only had one long run done! That was the Athlone three-quarters and that decided me to come here."
Long-time Irish women's leaders Sarah Mulligan and Michelle McGee faded in the late stages, allowing relatively unknown club runners Jane-Ann Healy-Meehan (a 33-year-old physiotherapist from Athenry) and Laura Graham (a 29-year-old swimming instructor from Mourne Runners) to come through and take the minor placings.
Kildare's defending wheelchair champion Patrick Monahan romped home 27 minutes clear of his rivals in 1:43.05.
1 A Gemechu (Eth) 2:14.01
2 F Ngare (Ken) 2:14.07.
3 A Bekele (Eth) 2:14.20.
1 N Lehonkova (Ukr) 2:31.08
2.G Momanyi (Ken) 2:32.16.
3 D Tesfanesh (Eth) 2:34.44.
AAI National Championships
1 S Hehir (Rathfarnham) 2:19.47.
2 G O’Hanlon (Clonlifee) 2:25.21.
3 D Mansfield (Clonliffe) 2:30.45.
1 P Curley (Tullamore) 2:49.29.
2 JA Healy-Meehan (Athenry) 2:54.48.
3 L Graham (Mourne Runners) 2:56.21.
1 P Monahan (Irl) 1:43.05
2 R Powell (Wales) 2:10.27.
3 P Hannan (Ireland) 2:13:17