He ran and won but he couldn't hide - Othmane El Gourmi from Morocco the first man home in the 2019 Dublin Marathon, just nine months after returning to the sport following a two-year doping ban.
That may be the present nature of this business, only as if to further stretch the credibility of his run as much as the appearance itself, El Gourmi also clocked the fastest marathon ever run in this country, his 2:08:06 almost half a minute quicker that the previous Dublin Marathon course record, set in 2011. All it seemed, while running well within himself.
History may be the ultimate judge of all that, only it was hard to recall a less popular winner in the 40 years of the event, especially as the details trickled down as to exactly how El Gourmi made it to the start line in the first place, let alone claim the top prize of €12,000. Truth is he should never have been there.
El Gourmi couldn't hide from any of that - still he didn't take all the glory or gloss off the race either, with Stephen Scullion producing the marathon of his life to take second place outright, his 2:12:01 the fastest time by any Irish man in 17 years, and also putting the Belfast man well on course to qualifying for next year's Tokyo Olympics.
Four Irish men in all made the top 10, Mick Clohisey sixth in 2:13:19, Hugh Amstrong eighth in 2:14:22, and Sean Hehir 10th in 2:16:01 - while Aoife Cooke also took a considerable chuck off her previous best to finish the top Irish women in 2:32:34, good enough for eighth overall behind outright winner Moth Gedefa from Ethiopia, who ran 2:27:48.
Never shy to speak his mind, Scullion promptly declared himself a “winner” on the day, which on several levels his was: as first Irish finisher he also earned his first National Marathon title, his 2:12:01 also improving his previous best of 2:14:34 set in January, and the fastest Irish men’s time since Mark Carroll’s 2:10:54 in New York in 2002.
“That’s a conversation for the organisers,” said Scullion, when asked how he felt about El Gourmi’s presence in the race: in December 2016, El Gourmi was one of six Moroccan athletes handed a two-year ban by the IAAF for irregularities in his Athlete Biological Passport (ABP), a more reliable show of doping.
“Arguably I might have won the thing if he wasn’t here,” added Scullion. “But look, I won, I feel like a winner inside, that’s a victory for me. I’ve always taken a stance that drug cheats can do whatever they want, I can’t control it. I’m in a sport where there are drug cheats, what else can I do. Not stand on the medal podium? Not buy into it?
“Look, I want to enjoy my moment, and in six or nine months time if he gets done for another doping violation, then I’m the champ. And it’s not my place to say. If the crowd want to believe I’m the champ, let them say. And when the room goes dark at night, I go to bed content knowing I’m clean.”
Cleared to run again from January, the 27-year-old El Gourmi promptly returned to run 2:08:20 to finish second in the Rabat Marathon in April. Crucially, organisers of the Dublin Marathon only discovered his doping past after his race entry had been submitted and accepted by his agent. By then, said long-serving Dublin Marathon race director Jim Aughney, it was too late.
“Yes, we slipped up, and it won’t happen again,” said a clearly disappointed Aughney. “We take all our athletes from accredited agents. Unfortunately, when we found out about our winner today (his doping past), he’d flights booked, we had accepted his entry, he’s a professional athlete who targeted Dublin, and would have turned down other events.
“This is something we’re going to have to write in to further events, and the contracts of any who does come over, than we don’t take them (with previous doping bans), and it’s unfortunate that he slipped through the net, for this one, and we’ll certainly have to improve the process for next year.
“When we discovered it, only a couple of weeks ago, there may have been ramifications, otherwise, if we turned him down at that stage. He slipped through the next with regards to us accepting his entry in the first place, but it will be part of the contracts from now on, for any athlete. We can refuse any entry, or only accept an entry with clean bill of health, for the want of a better term. But I don’t know whether we could have taken back his entry. We had a discussion, felt everything was so far advanced, we let it pass.
“Looking back, might have been done differently, but there are many other huge positives out there that I would prefer to focus on, Stephen Scullion running 2:12, that’s marvellous, and I hope he gets his due credit. Mick Clohisey another super run as well.”
Scullion was certainly ecstatic about his run - coming just three weeks after the 29 year-old finished the World Championships marathon in the crippling heat of Doha, Qatar, in 43rd, in 2:21:31.
“Everything over those last three weeks has been about turning it from sadness to anger to putting it all out here today, and I swear to God, in the race in Doha, I wanted to quit, wanted to retire. I also got a tooth infection before Doha, and just didn’t race as well as I could have, and cried after, was so disappointed.
“I just took a week holiday, but I was so fit, knew I ready to go well. I’ll get a lot of points today as well, towards Tokyo, so that’s good. And I just love racing, and finishing as well. The hardest part was not getting involved until mile 16. But I did a fitness test on Monday, and the results predicted 2:12:30, and I thought ‘oh boy’, but about three miles to go the heart warmed up, and I thought this is the best day of my life.
“On my left arm I wrote ‘ego’, which means don’t race people too early, then ‘hills’, for obvious reasons, then ‘patience’. That was for the first 20 miles., Then ‘animal’, on the right arm, for the last six miles. I got into around fourth place, at mile 22, saw Mick just ahead of me, just kept pounding, pounding. At 24 miles I said ‘f***’ the heart rate, just race. And I loved it.”
Later, El Gourmi spoke through his coach and manager Boubker Rizqi, and was asked that two-year doping ban: “It’s in the past, that’s it,” he said. “He’s been training hard, in the mountain area, Irafe, in Morocco.
And can he give any assurances this was a clean performance? “He said this is behind him. He knows about this before, but he came here to show who I am, to run 2:07. He’s been tested, back in Morocco, by the federation, and here’s to give whatever he could.”
With Patrick Monahan also securing another wheelchair title in 1:39:50, and four Irish men inside the top-10 - one of the best showings since early days, when the international presence wasn't as strong - Dublin Marathon number 40 still had plenty to cheer about. Just perhaps not the winner.
Top three Irish finishers - Dublin Marathon 2019
Men: Stephen Scullion (Clonliffe Harriers) 2:12:01, 2. Mick Clohisey (Raheny Shamrock) 2:13:19, 3. Hugh Armstrong (Ballina) 2:14:22
Women: Aoife Cooke (Eagle AC) 2:32:34, 2. Ann-Marie McGlynn (Letterkenny) 2:32:54, 3. Gladys Ganiel (North Belfast Harriers) 2:36:42