ATHLETICS: African stars geared up for Belfast City Maraton bid

Joel Kipsang.
Joel Kipsang.

Joel Kipsang and Behran Gebremichael defend their titles in the May Day Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon on Monday, which has attracted more that 2,700 entries.

Twenty nine year old Kipsang from Kenya won the event in 2014 and 2015 but just lost out to Freddie Sittuk two years ago. He won last time from Gideon Kimosop who is unfortunately sidelined by injury.

Joel is in great form as he showed with a recent 2:13:15 time in Germany. If conditions are right he can threaten the 2:13:41 course record set by Urga Neguwo in 2012.

Compatriot Eric Keoch ran 2:16:33 at altitude in Nairobi while Daniel Tanui clocked 2:18:46 in Dublin after taking silver in the Belfast Half Marathon.

Tamas Nagy of Hungary and Nusafa Channi from Morocco were third and fifth last year while 19-year-old Ethiopian Zeleke Bekele is a really interesting entry. He came second by a stride on his debut in China with 2:15:23.

African athletes have come first every year since 2003 and the last local winner was Tommy Hughes in 1998. Ben Morrow third in Larne can be top home runner. Delfim Pimentel is rarely out of the leading dozen while Jarleth McKenna from Bristol and West ran 2:24:12 at London and can make the top six if he has recovered.

Behran Gebremichael of Ethiopia was in a class of her own last year. She has won every marathon that she has competed in and her best of 2:36:31 is 19 seconds faster than the course record set by Natalha Lehova of Ukraine in 2013.

Fantu Jifar also Ethiopia has broken 80 minutes for the Half Marathon, Hungary is represented by Katalin Garmi - third last year - and Helen Csonge while Shona Crombie-Hicks and Sophie Carter lead the cross -hannel challenge.

There is huge prize money with bonuses for course records with £1,000 added each year that the record stands. A Men’s victory with a record will net £7,000 and a Women’s £6,000.

As well as the 2,700 runners in the main marathon there are 2,000 plus five person relay teams and a large turnout for the fun run. The nominated charity is Mencap.

The start is at Belfast City Hall at 9 o’clock with the runners finishing at Ormeau Park around 11:10am.