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Proud Scullion raises a glass to Olympic qualification after setting new Northern Irish record at London Marathon

 

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Stephen Scullion set new a new Northern Irish record

Stephen Scullion set new a new Northern Irish record

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Stephen Scullion set new a new Northern Irish record

Stephen Scullion last night toasted his stunning London Marathon performance with a few pints of Guinness ­ but now his focus turns to next summer's Tokyo Olympics which were put back 12 months due to the pandemic.

Scullion set a new Northern Ireland record of 2.09.49 - possibly the fastest time ever by an Irishman, although that has yet to be ratified - in what were far from ideal conditions to surely book his ticket on the plane to Japan alongside fellow Belfast man Kevin Seaward who has already achieved the qualifying mark of 2.11.30.

Scullion knocked a gigantic two minutes and three seconds off his previous best, which was set at the Houston Marathon earlier this year.

Scullion is one of the few elite athletes who has never made any secret of his love of a few pints, and last night he tweeted: "About to slug eight pints of Guinness, if I announce my retirement about 4am give me a break!"

That was a reference to an early hours of Sunday morning tweet - after pints taken - announcing his retirement following a 10k at Down Royal racecourse in July - a time when he should have been in Tokyo for the Olympics. The 31-year-old changed his mind when he woke up the next day and now the Tokyo dream is back on.

There was no mass participation race in London yesterday due to the pandemic, although there was a virtual event with thousands of runners completing the blue riband long distance event all over the country.

The new London route - the traditional event was postponed in April - comprised 19 laps of a closed circuit in St James's Park with the 100 elite competitors wearing special social distancing technology known as 'Bump' devices in the first major marathon since lockdown.

Scullion said: "I want to be on the plane to Tokyo in a position to be as competitive as I can possibly be in the race. I wouldn't be happy just taking part - I want to play a big part in the race.

"The Antrim Coast Half Marathon was a good stepping stone and training has been good."

Scullion sparkled in last month's Antrim Coast race, setting a new Northern Ireland record of 61.08 to finish fourth, victory going to four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Mo Farah - who acted as a pacemaker yesterday - in one hour 27 seconds.

Scullion has had several 'retirements' over the years and even turned his back on athletics four years ago to pursue a rugby career with Belfast side CIYMS just after injury had robbed him of the chance of going to the Rio Olympics. But now athletics is his number one priority.

He said: "I am getting faster every single year. I thought about retirement during lockdown due to the cancellation of big races and the postponement of the Olympics. Training hard but not being able to race was hard to take. My best years are ahead of me. Maybe a major medal isn't such a long shot any more."

Scullion finished 11th in yesterday's big race which was won by Ethiopia's Shura Kitata in 2.05.41, one second ahead of Kenya's Geoffrey Kipchchumba.

The women's race was won by Kenya's Brigid Kosgei in 2.18.58.

Eliud Kipchoge, who had won all of his previous four London Marathons, dropped alarmingly off the pace and ended up finishing down in eighth.

Belfast Telegraph