In so many ways, this was a day of celebration. New stars emerged for Irish marathon running in Stephen Scullion and Aoife Cooke, home-grown heroes of what was a glorious festival of celebratory suffering on the streets of the capital.
And yet, for all that the 40th edition of the KBC Dublin Marathon was met with suitably splendid autumn sunshine, there was no escaping the dark cloud of suspicion that hung over the athlete who led the 22,500 runners home.
Morocco’s Othmane El Goumri clocked the fastest time ever run on this course, 2:08:06, just a year after returning from a two-year doping suspension. He was banned in July 2016 for irregularities in his biological passport, but how did he explain that one?
“This is behind me now,” he said yesterday through an interpreter.
I was expecting to run 2:07 to show this is who I am. Whoever wants to talk they can come train with me, come train with us and then we talk.
But could he assure those watching that he had done this the right way? “I’ve been tested back in Morocco by the federation, by [the Athletics Integrity Unit] and I’m ready here to give whatever they ask,” he responded.
El Goumri pocketed €12,000 for his win and in an event that has a policy of not inviting drug cheats, the question for the long-time race director was why the Moroccan was on the start line: “We slipped up, he got through the net and it won’t happen again,” said Jim Aughney, who revealed the race organisers only became aware of El Goumri’s entry two weeks before the race, at which point they decided it would cause even more trouble to block his entry.
“It’s something we’re going to have to write into the contracts. We’ll have to improve the process for next year.”
Aughney rightly pointed out that such an oversight by the organisers shouldn’t detract from the performance of runner-up Stephen Scullion, who produced an outstanding performance to carve more than two minutes off his best. The 31-year-old hit rock-bottom just three weeks earlier in Doha, when finishing 43rd in the World Championships marathon.
“During the race in Doha I wanted to retire and I had a serious conversation with my coach after and I was like, ‘it’s not f***ing worth it,’” he said. “But I didn’t quit, I showed up today and f***ing killed it. This is probably the best day of my life.”
Scullion’s time of 2:12:01 was the fastest ever by an Irishman in Dublin and it made the Belfast man the fifth fastest Irishman of all time. Rio Olympian Mick Clohisey was the next Irishman home, also smashing his PB with 2:13:19, while Mayo’s Hugh Armstrong was third Irishman with 2:14:22.
Scullion’s time, coupled with the national title, now puts him in line for a place at next year’s Olympics via the rankings system, just reward for an athlete who moved to Flagstaff, Arizona to train full-time three years ago.
He paid tribute afterwards to the race organisers in Dublin, who long before he made the move to the marathon had helped him pay for a new laptop to enable him work remotely as a web developer while he chased his running dreams in the United States. “That’s the kind of organisation Dublin Marathon is,” he said.
But what of the race winner? “I always take a stance of: I can’t control drug cheats,” said Scullion. “When the room goes dark and I go to bed I’m content knowing I’m clean and doing what I’m doing. Look, I feel like a winner inside.”
Scullion ran a conservative first half, tracking chief rival Mick Clohisey, but he stormed through the field in the closing miles to hit the finish an ecstatic second. “With three miles to go I just kept saying: Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo,” he said.
That’s also now a possibility for women’s national champion Aoife Cooke, the 33-year-old from Eagle AC in Cork who carved 14 minutes off her marathon best, clocking 2:32:34 to finish eighth in a race won by Ethiopia’s Motu Gedefa in 2:27:48.
“A lot of miles, a lot of hard training,” said Cooke of the reason for her breakthrough. “This is what I was working for, this is what I wanted. Running became a priority in the last year, my whole life revolved around it.”
Ann-Marie McGlynn took seven minutes off her PB to finish runner-up in the national championships with Gladys Ganiel clocking a PB of 2:36:42 in third.