Graham to race Belfast Marathon despite threat of Ireland axe
Ireland's top marathon runner Laura Graham has been threatened with deselection from Ireland's team for the European Championships in August should she compete in next Monday's Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon.
But, despite this unprecedented ultimatum, 32-year-old Graham of Mourne Runners has declared she has every intention of defending her title on May Day.
A year ago, Laura set a personal best time of 2hrs 41mins 46secs to became the first local race winner since Barbara Brewer in 1999.
The warning came from Athletics Ireland Performance Director Paul McNamara, who has indicated that the 11 athletes who were selected last week for this summer's European Marathon in Berlin should not compete in the intervening period in any race over the half marathon distance.
His reasoning is that Athletics Ireland wants the strongest and fittest team for the male and female team marathon competitions in Berlin in August.
This objective could be undermined by an athlete racing even in an event such as Belfast where the interim time period is more than three months.
Graham seems to have a particular affinity for Belfast following her emphatic win by almost five minutes last year, coming just days after racing in the London Marathon. She also performed this feat in 2016 when finishing second in Belfast again after London.
Should neither party yield in this impasse, the loss of Graham to the Irish Women's Team would not only be controversial but also a huge blow to the squad.
Laura is presently the fastest Irish runner following her superb time of 2.37.05 in Berlin last September. In making her case for Berlin she may well point to this fact plus her successful London and Belfast marathons in quick succession.
She could claim that this should provide Athletics Ireland with ample evidence that she can fully recover in time for the challenges of a European Marathon in August.
Currently none of the parties are prepared to discuss this issue, including Graham, with Laura's coach Ryan Maxwell confirming that she was not prepared to comment on the matter.
It is not expected, however, that any of the other five Northern Ireland athletes selected for Berlin intend to ignore the policy stipulations set by Athletics Ireland.
They are Breege Connolly, Gladys Ganiel, Paul Pollock, Kevin Seaward and Stephen Scullion.
The strength of marathon racing in the region is reflected by the fact that these six hold the fastest times of the 11-person Irish squad.
Meanwhile, Berhan Gebremichael will be taking the start line next Monday. The Ethiopian defeated Graham by a narrow 30 seconds two years ago.