Ndungu sets new standard


ATHLETICS:SUCH IS the way of the marathon these days that times are becoming less relevant and more relative. Run a personal best, a course record, win by over a minute – looking incredibly impressive throughout – and that will always make Dublin headlines.

Still, as Geoffrey Ndungu himself admitted, he’d need to run significantly quicker than his two hours, eight minutes and 33 seconds if he’s ever going to make Kenyan headlines – not to mention the Kenyan team for next year’s London Olympics.

Not that he’s overly concerned, at least not for now: Ndungu pocketed €15,000 for his victory and another €5,000 bonus for the course record – which he improved for only the seventh time in the 32 editions of the Dublin Marathon, bettering the 2:08.58 that countryman Moses Kibet ran here a year ago.

Kibet ended up fifth this time, as Kenya provided seven of the top-10 finishers (or eight, if Qatari convert Gamal Belal is included). Yet purely for comparison purposes, 42 other Kenyans have already run faster than 2:08.33 in 2011 alone, and in fact in Frankfurt just last Sunday, the top eight, all Kenyans, each ran quicker.

Indeed if you want to make headlines in Kenya these days you’d need to be running 2:03-something – although that doesn’t take from what was another exceptional demonstration of running around the streets of Dublin.

“Very happy with my race, it was quite okay for me,” said the 27-year-old. “My best before today was 2:11, but I’m hoping to run quicker than this again, even though I am happy, with my personal best.”

Ndungu was a convincing winner in conditions that weren’t far off ideal, and although it was a little breezy, it started out dry and quite mild – and from the gun the course record always looked on too, with Gilbert Kiptoo – who ended up second in 2:09.50 – pressing the pace early on, taking them through halfway in 63:52.

A leading group of six remained tightly bunched until just after 22 miles, and over the UCD Flyover, when Kibet and Ndungu pulled marginally clear, and turned onto Nutley Lane.

With that Ndungu put the boot down, and within a few metres had gone clear: from there until the finish he didn’t look back, charging through the closing miles down Merrion Road and around College Green before sprinting towards Merrion Square – still looking superbly relaxed, as the Kenyans usually do.

Then came the wait for the first of the Irish: the clock ticked ominously close to 2:15.00 – the A-standard for the London Olympics – before anyone came into view, and by the time Seán Connolly approached Merrion Square, it was well past it.

He finished in 2:18.52, 12th overall, which was actually slower than the 2:17.23 he ran in Rotterdam in April, and understandably left him with mixed emotions.

“Yes, bitter sweet,” said the 26-year-old from Tallaght. “I didn’t get the time I wanted, the London standard, but then I’m happy to get the national title, which is at least some compensation.”

His time was also the first sub-2:20 by an Irish runner in the Dublin Marathon since 1999 (when Gerry Healy ran 2:15.37, finishing second) – and indeed would have won him the race outright, as recently as 1998. But then time is always relative.

“Yeah, and 2:15 was gone pretty early,” he admitted. “It was a bit blustery early, and was hoping to get some help with the pace. But that was gone after four miles, so it was just a race after that for the national title. But it was frustrating.”

He passed halfway in 68:20, still in a close battle with defending Irish champion Sergiu Ciobanu (who ended up with the silver medal this time, in 2:20.56).

“I was looking for 67:30 at halfway,” added Connolly. “But we were well off that even at four miles. But then I wasn’t feeling great either. The legs were kind of flat. There were a few points I wanted to stop, but I was happy in the end that I dogged it out.”

He still has his chance to make London, and will target another marathon next spring – but in the meantime it was straight back to Manchester, where’s he’s currently doing a teacher-training course, for a 7.30am class this morning.

“I nearly gave up the sport five years ago. At least I’m still talking about making the Olympics. I haven’t given up. Not at all. I just need to get in a better group, with a better pace.”

With that Connolly thanked the support of the Dublin Marathon Mission, which is still targeting a full quota of Irish qualifiers for London, and when reflecting on his 2:18.52, will realise he’s still not far off mission accomplished.