Dublin Marathon: Seán Hehir takes national title to banish Berlin blues

Ethiopia’s Alemu Gemechu times run to perfection to win race

 Ethiopia’s Alemu Gemechu crosses the line to win the the  men’s race at the  the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Ethiopia’s Alemu Gemechu crosses the line to win the the men’s race at the the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Rarely has the Dublin Marathon produced a more intriguing finish and not just in the obvious way. After 26 miles of running, Alemu Gemechu eventually got ahead of Francis Ngare inside the last 385 yards, giving the young Ethiopian a six-second victory over his Kenyan rival.

Next came the wait for the first Irish finisher, although Seán Hehir wasn’t entirely sure he’d won that race until after a sort of running stewards inquiry. Finishing three places ahead of Hehir, in sixth, was Freddy Sittuk, the Kenyan-born runner who now resides largely in Ireland, and represents Raheny Shamrock.

Indeed Sittuk was briefly declared the first Irish finisher, performing his post-race interview while wearing the gold medal around his neck (the Dublin Marathon doubles as the Athletics Ireland National Championships): however Athletics Ireland then checked their rulebook and decided Sittuk wasn’t actually the champion after all, as he doesn’t officially reside in the country.

It all made for a slightly uneasy situation, although Hehir wasn’t about to complain either way. Just four weeks ago, he ran the Berlin marathon, looking to dip inside the Rio Olympic marathon standard of 2:17:00. He finished in 2:17:48, and although physically and mentally drained, figured the best way of recovering – in both senses – was to run again in Dublin.

And run he did – dipping inside the 2:20 barrier for the seventh time with his 2:19:47. Gemechu had taken the outright victory in 2:14:02, with Sittuk clocking 2:15:20 in sixth, although for Hehir, it all provided the perfect consolation for his ultimately wasted effort in Berlin.

“I was very upset after Berlin, definitely,” said the Clare athlete, who teaches at Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál, in Inchicore. “The intention was to get that Olympic standard, and hand on heart, I just wasn’t good enough. Simple as that. That aside, I was proud to be part of the Irish group that saw four guys go under 2:16, and inside that Olympic standard.

“After that I spoke with Dick Hooper, my coach, and we said we’d see how the four weeks went. It was about balancing the recovery and keeping some of the momentum. So I’m very happy with sub-2:20 in those conditions, and happy to win the national title again too.”

Sittuk admitted he “understood” why he couldn’t claim the Irish prize, despite representing an Irish club, and Hehir too paid tribute to his effort: “Fair play to Freddy, he’d a very good run too, and if they’d given him the title there would have been no ill-feeling. I train with him, he’s a great guy. I’ll certainly give the Rio Standard another go, in the spring, but I’m also looking forward to a holiday, to get over this first.”

For Gemechu, only the second ever Ethiopian winner in the 36 editions of the Dublin Marathon (after Feyisa Lilesa won in 2009), there was the €10,000 top prize, while Hehir earned €3,000 for his effort.

The drizzling rain and stiff breeze meant it wasn’t a day for many records – and indeed the most notable was probably that set by Pauline Curley when becoming the oldest ever winner of a national title, winning the women’s national title at age 46 (the previous oldest winner in the 143-year history of Irish athletics was Danny McDaid, who was 42 when he won a marathon tile in 1983).

However Patrick Monahan did improve substantially on his winning time in the wheelchair race, clocking an impressive 1:43:05 despite the wet conditions – over nine minutes faster than his 2014 winning time. The Kildare man will now turn his attention towards qualifying for the Rio Paralympics next summer.

Also making the podium of national champions were Gary O’Hanlon (Clonliffe Harriers), who was second best Irish finisher in 2:25:21, followed by club mate David Mansfield in 2:30:45. Last year’s outright winner Eliud Too from Kenya had to settle for fourth overall in 2:14:50.

DUBLIN MARATHON: LEADING MEN

1 Alemu Gemechu (Ethiopia) 2:14:02

2 Francis Ngare (Kenya) 2:14:08

3 Asefa Bekele (Ethiopia) 2:14:21

4 Eliud Too (Kenya) 2:14:50

5 Stepan Kiselev (Russia) 2:15:18

6 Freddy Sittuk (Kenya) 2:15:20

IRISH FINISHERS/NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

1 Seán Hehir (Rathfarnham) 2:19:47

2 Gary O’Hanlon (Clonliffe Harriers) 2:25:21

3 David Mansfield (Clonliffe Harriers) 2:30:45

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