MARTIN FAGAN is set to become the first Irishman to win the Great Ireland Run while European indoor bronze medallist, Mary Cullen, is aiming to complete an Irish double by landing the women’s title.
One of the most exciting events on the Great Run calendar, tomorrow’s Phoenix Park event is also the biggest mixed run in the country and has attracted another record entry — well in excess of the 10,000 target.
Fagan and Cullen go into the race on the back of a succession of fine performances this year. After failing by just five seconds to break the record in the 3M Half Marathon in January, Fagan hopped continents to break John Treacy’s 21-year-old Half Marathon record by three seconds with a 60:57 run in The Hague in February.
Tomorrow the Beijing Olympian drops distance dramatically to challenge Kenyan Paul Tergat, a former world marathon record holder (2:04:55), five-time world cross-country champion and a double Olympic silver medallist.
“When I was starting out on my running career Paul Tergat was my hero,” said the Mullingar Harrier. “Now I am lining up alongside him here in Ireland and that has to be special. He is still very much a force to be reckoned with and I have a lot of respect for him.”
Fagan, who is on a Providence College scholarship, wants desperately to win tomorrow’s RTÉ televised showpiece and the omens are all in his favour. The disappointment of dropping out of the Olympic Marathon in Beijing still stings although he admits his head was not right for that race.
“The injury took a long time to heal and I was always going to be trying to make it up,” he said. “My head was not right going into the race. There was a big doubt there and you cannot go to the Olympics with any doubts. On race day I just could not get excited about the race.
“On reflection, maybe I should not have gone to the training camp in Matsue. Everyone there was winding down but I was still training hard trying to catch up on lost time. Since the Olympics things have gone very well for me. I have been injury free and my training at Flagstaff has been great and that’s reflected in my performance.
“I am looking forward to taking a break in May because it has been pretty tough. I will go for the 10,000m qualifying standard for the world championships at the end of April.”
Tomorrow he faces a strong field that also includes Andrew Carlson (USA), Tom Lancashire (Great Britain), Abdi Nageeye (Netherlands), Gladson Silva Barbosa (Brazil), Rui Pedro Silva (Portugal) and Oskar Kack (Sweden).
Cullen has had a hectic schedule away from the training ground since winning the bronze medal in the 3,000m at the European indoor championships in Turin. That was the highlight of a sensational indoor season that saw her threaten and then break Sonia O’Sullivan’s 3,000m record with a 8:43.74 win in Boston.
She, too, has a qualifying standard (5,000m) for the world championships as her target and, like Fagan, will go to Ray Flynn’s meeting in Cal Berkeley at the end of the month for her bid.
Tomorrow’s women’s field will include teak tough Fernanda Ribeiro (Portugal) who is former Olympic champion and bronze medallist and world 10,000m champion, Sally Barsosio (Kenya) also a former world 10,000m champion, Jelena Prokopcuka (Latvia) double New York marathon winner, and Ana Dulce Felix (Portugal) who was 15th in last weekend’s World Cross Country Championships in Amman.
Meanwhile, the Great Ireland Junior Run for children aged between 8 and 15 years over a distance of 2.7km will start at 11.15am. This event has also grown dramatically in size and over 500 young people will take part.
The 2009 Run will again feature a novel County Challenge competition for the Ronnie Delany Perpetual Trophy. Using the power of chip technology, the county with the most finishers in a particular time frame are recorded and that county is declared the winner. Ireland’s fastest county in 2008 was Mayo, followed by Westmeath and Tipperary. Ronnie Delany will be on hand again this year to present the trophy named in his honour.
Who to look out for in the Park
Martin Fagan (Mullingar): Irish half-marathon record holder (60:57); winner Austin, Texas half-marathon in 61:05 in January; Irish 10,000m champ 2008; 10km best time of 28:18; 2008 Olympic marathon.
Paul Tergat (Kenya): former world marathon record holder (2003 2007, 2:04:55); 5 time World Cross Country champ; double Olympic and World Championship 10,000m silver medallist; double World Half-Marathon champ; winner Lake Biwa 2009 Marathon (Japan) (2:10:22).
Gary Murray (St Malachy’s): Four times national cross-country champ, twice national 5,000m champ, 12th in European cross-country champships in 2006.
Andrew Carlson (USA): 48:51 10 miles; 28:56 10K; 7:58.73 3,000m; 62:44 half marathon.
Tom Lancashire (Great Britain: Olympics 1,500m; 3:35 for 1,500m and 3:55 for Mile, 23:32 5 miles.
Rui Pedro Silva (Portugal): Twice Portuguese cross-country champ; reigning Portuguese 10,000m champ.
Mary Cullen (Sligo): bronze medallist, 3,000m European Indoor Championships, March 2009; Irish record holder 3,000m indoors; graduate of Providence College, Rhode Island; former NCAA 5,000m champ (2006); best 10k time of 31:21.
Fernanda Ribeiro (Portugal): Olympic Games bronze medallist 2000; former Olympic and world 10,000m champ.
Sally Barsosio (Kenya): Former world 10,000m champ; former world junior cross-country champ.
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