Africans dominate at Belfast Marathon on a day of massive controversy
Once again African athletes dominated a high quality 38th Belfast Marathon with a fastest ever female time in Belfast by Caroline Jepchirchir plus a record fourth victory in the men's race for Joel Kositany.
The Kenyan woman's achievement is especially memorable as it is likely that she broke the previous best time by up to a minute with her 2.36.39.
It is difficult to quantify due to the first running on a new course and an embarrassing blunder around the three-mile mark when misplaced cones caused the the lead car to briefly divert from the official route, resulting in competitors running some 460 metres further than the standard 26.2 miles marathon distance. It is estimated that this roughly added up to 45 seconds to athletes' finishing times.
It was the only unfortunate blot on the first ever Sunday event which attracted a record 4,000-plus runners in the main event.
Organisers apologised and pointed out that such an error has occurred in the past in marathons elsewhere, particularly where a new course is being used.
This error somewhat undermined a truly superb run by Kenya's Caroline Jepchirchir. Her aggressive approach from the gun showed she was determined to retain her title from last year when she defeated local girl Laura Graham. This time the 37-year-old fought another battle with Ethiopia's Shewaye Woldemeske for most of the race.
Their red-hot time of 78 minutes at halfway showed that something special was possible. At that stage North Belfast's Commonwealth Games athlete Gladys Ganiel was two minutes back in another tussle with Ukraine's Vira Ovcharuk.
The leaders were still battling at 20 miles while Gladys had slipped to fourth.
Jepchirchir did not relent in the closing stages and broke away from her fellow African to cross the line in a record time of 2.36.39 for 15th overall place.
This was 10 seconds faster than Ukraine's Nataliya Lehonkova who won over the old course in 2013.
However, because of the course error Caroline could well have run a marathon time some 55 seconds faster than any other woman in Belfast.
Woldemeske took second in another impressive time of 2.37.35. Ukraine's Vera Ovcharuk was third in 2.38.59 followed by Ganiel (2.39.18), Christina Bogomiakova of Ukraine who was third last year (2.45.46) and Edna Jeruto of Kenya (2.48.50).
An exhausted but pleased Gladys, who was making her Belfast debut, said: "That was a good run for me. Anything under two hours 40 minutes is good on this course which is still tough around Ardoyne where the hill makes you lose up to 40 seconds. The African girls were just too good."
Ciaran Collins, who is Jepchirchir's coach, said he was delighted with his athlete's performance especially so soon after a marathon in Barcelona in March.
The African challenge in the men's race was equally ferocious with no less than six Kenyans disputing the lead at the seven-mile mark. However, by the halfway point this group was whittled down to three-time winner Joel Kositany, Bernard Rotich who won in 2017, and last year's winner Eric Koech.
A minute further back was Gideon Kimosop who is a treble winner of the Belfast Half Marathon. Gideon Kurgat was next ,followed by McKenna runners Jarlath and Vincent.
However, despite the formidable trio up front their time was a relatively modest 70 minutes 23 seconds, admittedly partly explained by the course marking mishap.
Little had changed at the 20-mile mark although Kenya's Dan Tanui, who was second a year ago, had moved up to fourth.
Triple champion Kositany finally made a decisive move at 25 miles. Despite the close attentions of Koech and Rotich the 2013, 2015 and 2016 champion was not to be denied. Joel sprinted down the home straight in effortless style to take victory in 2.18.41.
Koech got second in 2.18.51 with Rotich having to settle for third only four seconds back .
There was then a lengthy six-minute gap with fourth going to Abdelhadi El Mouaziz of Morocco (2.24.49), Tanui (2.42.52) and first NI finisher Jarlath McKenna (2.27.57). Kenya's Gideon Kurgat was seventh in 2.28.37, followed by Magherafelt's Vincent McKenna (2.32.32).
Kositany said of his record fourth win: "I am really happy with that. The weather was good and I liked the course. I really like Belfast and will be back next year."
Jarlath commented: "I have lived in England for a long time but I still like racing here. This is now the fifth time I have finished sixth in this event.
"I am really pleased as it's the first time here I have broken two hours 30 minutes."
The first 100 runners across the finish line in Belfast City Marathon
1 Joel Kositany, Kenya, 02:18:41
2 Eric Koech, Kenya, 02:18:51
3 Bernard Riotch Kenya 02:18:55
4 Jim Corbett, Banbridge, 02:20:55, 1st wheelchair
5 Abdelhadi el Mouaziz, Morocco, 02:24:49
6 Dan Tanui, Kenya, 02:24:52
7 Jarlath McKenna, Newcastle upon Tyne, 02:27:57, 1st local
8 Gedion Cheruiyot Kurgat, Kenya, 02:28:37
9 Team Pure Running, Belfast, 02:29:21, 1st relay
10 Vincent McKenna, Magherafelt, 02:32:23, 2nd local
11 Team Annadale Striders, Ballyclare, 02:32:50, 2nd relay
12 Karol Doherty, Carndonagh, 02:34:49, 2nd wheelchair
13 Raivis Zakis, Dungarvan, 02:36:17
14 Team LVAC, Jnr Endurance Lisburn, 02:36:23, 3rd relay
15 Caroline Jepchirchir, Kenya, 02:36:39, 1st female
16 Max Travers, Segovia, 02:37:08, 3rd local
17 Pierce McCullagh, Omagh, 02:37:09
18 James Divin, Derry, 02:37:33, 3rd wheelchair
19 Shewaye Woldemeske, 02:37:35, 2nd female
20 Chris Hutchinson, Newtownabbey, 02:37:50
21 Vira Ovcharuk, 02:38:59, 3rd female
22 Gladys Ganiel O'Neill, Belfast, 02:39:18, 1st local female
23 Neil Weir, Belfast, 02:39:23
24 Christopher MacDonald, Motherwell, 02:39:30
25 Christopher Juhas, Belfast, 02:39:44
26 Colum Gaile, Belfast, 02:40:00
27 Brian Kinsella, Belfast, 02:41:06
28 Jeremy Curran, Dublin, 02:41:12
29 Garry Morrow, Bangor, 02:41:41
30 Peter McGarry, Newtonabbey, 02:42:18
31 Ben Morrow, Ballymena, 02:42:29
32 Simon Murray, Belfast, 02:42:32
33 Jonathan Canning, Derry, 02:43:59
34 Thomas Maguire, Belcoo, 02:44:01
35 Wesley McDowell, Dromore, 2:44:07
36 Nic Brew, Ballymena, 02:44:54
37 Brendan Guiney, Belfast, 02:45:02
38 Chris Denton, Coleraine, 02:45:06
39 Lee O'Boyle, Newtownabbey, 02:45:26
40 Khrystyna Bohomiahkova, 02:45:47
41 Gary Henderson, Armagh, 02:46:06
42 Colin James, Ballyclare, 02:46:19
43 David Conwell, Killybegs, 02:46:37
44 Team North Down AC - Over 40 Strugglers, Bangor, 02:47:13
45 Raymond Carolan, Carrickmacross, 02:47:16
46 Luke Izard, Belfast, 02:47:26
47 Paul Finnegan, Armagh City, 02:47:55
48 Gordon Lennox, Alness, 02:48:14
49 Thibault de Rijdt, Bababt-Wallon, 02:48:17
50 Sean Doyle, Naas, 02:48:38
51 Edna Jeruto, Belfast, 02:48:50
52 Barry McCarroll, Craigavon, 02:49:04
53 Team Scrambled Legs, Limavady, 02:49:30
54 Gavin Eccles, Portmarnock, 02:49:40
55 Wayne Morrow, Glenarm, 02:49:53
56 Drew Fowler, Portaferry, 02:49:58
57 Craig Reid, Bishopton, 02:49:58
58 Andrew McIntyre, Belfast, 02:49:59
59 Team Damien's Dreamboats, Newry, 02:50:37
60 Sam Linton, Magherafelt, 02:50:59
61 Conor McMullan, Belfast, 02:51:26
62 Team Belfast Running Club Mixed Team, Belfast, 02:51:33
63 Delfim Pimental, Coalisland, 02:51:43
64 Nick Weston, Newtownabbey, 02:51:47
65 Shane O'Donnell, Letterkenny, 02:51:55
66 Radka Churanova, Belfast, 02:52:14
67 John Jensen, Denmark, 02:52:16
68 Damian McBride, Milford, 02:52:17
69 Brian Swaby, Waterford, 02:52:44
70 Garrett Loy, Malahide, 02:52:58
71 Jason Scott, Limavady, 02:53:09
72 Darren Millar, Mallusk, 02:53:12
73 Team Beechmount Harriers Ladies, Belfast, 02:53:48
74 Lawrence O'Kane, Magherafelt, 02:53:54
75 Jordan Stokes, Bangor, 02:54:07
76 David Hamilton, Portadown, 02:54:10
77 Team Lagan Valley AC Men, Newtownabbey, 02:54:11
78 Ciaran McKendry, Newtownabbey, 02:54:18
79 Daniel Molloy, Downpatrick, 02:54:44
80 Martin Doyle, Dublin, 02:54:54
81 Aaron Moffatt, Coleraine, 02:54:58
82 Andrew Newell, Belfast, 02:55:10
83 Team Ballygalget A, Newtownards, 02:55:12
84 Stephen Quinn, Newry, 02:55:30
85 Keith Weir, Dungannon, 02:55:31
86 Andrew McCrea, Newtownabbey, 02:55:32
87 Colin Heron, Dungannon, 02:55:33
88 Geoff Smyth, Belfast, 02:55:34
89 Hughie Taggert, Dungannon, 02:55:43
90 Federico Bordignon, Vicenza, 02:55:46
91 Steven Todd, Belfast, 02:55:47
92 Michael Boland, Foxford, 02:55:56
93 John Lynch, Co. Roscommon, 02:55:58
94 Tomasz Olszewski, Draperstown, 02:56:02
95 John Robinson, Ballymena, 02:56:06
96 Brian Farrell, Newry, 02:56:06
97 Team Lagan Valley Ladies, Newtownabbey, 02:56:25
98 Ronan Toland, Belfast, 02:56:28
99 Donough McBrearty, Glasgow, 02:56:39
100 Derek McLoughlin, Dublin, 02:56:41