Kipsang eyes history after third taste of Belfast glory
Belfast Marathon men's elite race
Joel Kipsang yesterday became only the second person to complete a hat-trick of victories in the Deep RiverRock Belfast Marathon.
Following in fellow Kenyan John Mutai's footsteps, the 29-year-old showed the opposition a clean pair of heels at the 23-mile mark - just like he did in last year's triumph - to enjoy an easy one-minute victory margin in a time of two hours, 17 minutes and 39 seconds.
His third win - after success in 2013 and 2015 - represents the fastest winning time since 2012 and is respectable considering the very strong winds.
And Kipsang, who is married and has a 15-month-old son, announced that he will be returning next year in a bid to clinch an historic fourth success.
Each of the main contenders were to the fore at the seven-mile mark, which was reached in 36 minutes. Kipsang was accompanied by fellow Kenyans Dan Tanui and Eric Koech, who are under the wing of local coach Ciaran Collins .
Zeleke Bekele of Ethiopia, late entrant Chris Ziblocki of the USA and Mustafa Channi of Morocco were also keeping up.
The fast pace continued with the halfway point passed in 68 minutes, 37 seconds. At that stage Ziblocki was a minute in arrears with Channi further behind.
At the 20-mile mark, only Kipsang, Tanui and Koech were left in contention as the much-favoured Bekele buckled under the pressure. The trio played a cat and mouse game in Corporation Street with no-one wishing to lead and take the brunt of the wind.
With three miles remaining, however, the seasoned Kipsang made a decisive break. He had the luxury of acknowledging the large crowds on the Ormeau and Ravenhill Roads before turning into the finish at Ormeau Park for a much-deserved victory.
The battle for the runner-up spot went to the wire with Koech getting the verdict in 2.18.43, only three seconds ahead of Tanui. Ziblocki was nine minutes further back in fourth, while Channi was a little frustrated by a second consecutive fifth-place in 2.27.26 with Jarleth McKenna taking sixth in 2.31.19.
Runner-up Koech was very happy with his performance, considering it was his first race outside of Kenya.
The 34-year-old, who only took up running six years ago, said he was determined to come back next year as he was at a disadvantage this time around since Kipsang knew the course well.
Both Koech and third-placed finisher Tanui - who was second in last year's Belfast Half Marathon - are part of Collins' Project Africa scheme, which is designed to assist Africans who would not normally receive invites to compete abroad.
Fourth-placed Ziblocki travelled over from England on Sunday after completing a 12-hour shift working in a hospital. The American is studying medicine at Chichester and will eventually return to the US.
In addition to the 2,800 marathon entries, there were also some 1,900 relay teams. They included teams representing the East Antrim Marathon Series, which has been organising monthly marathons since 2013. Spokesman Peter Montgomery explained that the events, which average about 100 runners each month, have raised many thousands for various charities.
Former Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers was competing in a relay team raising funds for NI Hospice.