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Laura given go-ahead to defend her Belfast title



Laura Graham will be out to reclaim her Belfast Marathon title

Laura Graham will be out to reclaim her Belfast Marathon title

Defending champion: Joel Kipsang

Defending champion: Joel Kipsang

Laura Graham will be out to reclaim her Belfast Marathon title

Kilkeel's Laura Graham and Kenyan Joel Kipsang are favourites for today's 37th Deep RiverRock Belfast Marathon which features 17,000 participants.

There is a huge increase in entries with 3,000 expected in the main marathon and 2,200 five person relay teams. There is also an eight mile walk and fun run.

Laura (32) is making her third appearance in the event following a runner up spot in 2016 and victory last year by almost five minutes in a personal best time of 2 hours 41 mins 46 secs. This made her the first local winner since Barbara Brewer back in 1999.

Graham's preparation for today has unfortunately been far from satisfactory.

This is because Athletics Ireland initially made it clear that her participation in the race would run contrary to their stipulation that none of 11 Irish athletes who have been selected for the European Marathon Championships in Berlin in August should race before then in any event over the half marathon distance .

At one stage the Dublin body indicated that anyone not adhering to this policy would not be permitted to race in Berlin. Their reasoning was that Irish athletes taking the start line in Germany should be at their strongest and fittest.

However, Laura made it very clear from the outset that she fully intended to race today.

The Kilkeel woman is not only the fastest Irish female but has previously competed in marathons in close proximity to each other.

For example ,she ran her personal best time of 2 hrs 37 mins 5 secs in Berlin last September and followed this up with victory in the Dublin marathon a little over a month later. The European marathon is still over three months away.

It is now understood that the impasse between Laura and Athletics Ireland has been resolved and that her participation in the marathon today will not lead to any penalty by way of possible deselection from the European Marathon.

The Dublin body has now obviously accepted that the reasonably lengthly three months time gap before Berlin is sufficent to ensure that Laura will have fully recovered from her exertions in Belfast today.

Laura starts the race as firm favourite as her opposition have slower times.

Kenya's Caroline Jepchirchir ran 2 hrs 49 mins in Doha in 2015 which was the same year in which she ran a half marathon PB of 74 minutes.

Also racing is Radka Churanova of the Czech Republic who was fourth in Belfast last year and third in 2016. Ukraine's Christina Bogomiagkova (2 hrs 48 mins) is also entered.

A winner in the Men's event is much less clear cut though 30 year old Kenyan Joel Kipsang can certainly claim substantial local knowledge with three previous wins and a runner up spot to his credit.

His current form is however unclear as his last notable race was his Belfast victory two years ago in a time of 2 hrs 17 mins 39 secs.

Second finisher in that race was Eric Koech who is also in the line up today.

Another threat could be yet another Kenyan, Dan Tanui, who will be desperate to add a victory in Belfast to his two previous rostrum places.Dan who was second a year ago is a member of the Ciaran Collins Project Africa scheme. He is has previously raced extensively in the Province.

Other names to watch are the Moroccan pair Mostafa Channi and Abdelhadi El Mouaziz who have previously finished in the top five.

Weather conditions are far from ideal for today's race with sunny weather and temperatures in the high teens expected.

This will fully test the runners particularly on the arduous uphill Antrim Road stretch which is still only at the halfway stage.

This is followed later by a long isolated stretch in the Duncrue Industrial Estate which has few spectators and is prone to winds from the foreshore.

Belfast Telegraph