Laura Wightman and Ben Connor take the honours at Armagh International
ARMAGH International Road Races lived up to its reputation as one of the best events of its kind with enthralling races around the superfast Mall circuit in the city centre.
The performers came from as far away as New Zealand, Finland, Poland, Belgium, France, Norway and the United States to do battle in the metaphorical shadow of the ancient Navan Fort.
Race director Brian Vallely could not have arranged a better field for the women’s 3000m, with Olympic 1500m runner Laura Weightman dominating from the gun.
The woman from the homeland of the Three Lions passed through the opening lap in 3:02, on target for Mary Cullen’s 9:07.9 record.
The Steve Cram-coached athlete sped up on the second lap to reach the bell in 6:01 as the rest of the field struggled to keep pace with her. The Morpeth Harrier did not relent until she crossed the finish line in a breath-taking new record of eight minutes and 59 seconds.
The rest were left to fight over the scraps with Rosie Clarke grabbing second in 9:02 and followed eight seconds later by former teenage star Jessica Judd as cross-channel runners filled the top eight spots.
Kerry O’Flaherty showed no sign of fatigue from a fast 1500m in Athlone the previous evening as she led home the locals in ninth with a 9:21 clocking. Emma Mitchell followed hot on her heels just two seconds back in 10th, while Strabane-based Ann-Marie McGlynn was 14th in 9:33.
The men were next to enter the arena and were quick to respond to the crack of the starter’s gun. Little separated the lead pack until the latter stages when England’s Graham Rush made a dash for glory. He was gathered in again as compatriot Ben Connor, Brandon Doughty from the USA and Welshman Dewi Griffiths emerged from the chasing group.
But it was ex-Providence College student Connor who broke the tape after a hectic sprint along the final straight in 13:55, a tantalising second outside the record. Doughty shared the same time as the winner in the runner-up spot, with Griffiths third another three seconds back.
“I always wanted to give this race a go, the atmosphere is amazing,” said Connor after catching his breath.
“It’s the best 5km I’ve ever done. To come through and win like this was great, winning is a habit you get into.”
Waterford man Shane Quinn was 10th in 14:10, while Conor Bradley was first Ulster athlete across the line in 31st with a 14:29 timing.
Next home was Neil Johnston in 38th recording 14:36, followed a mere second later by Danny Mooney in 42nd.
Stephen Mackay came down from Inverness to win the Open 3000m in 8:45 followed by Zak Hanna (8:48) and 2016 winner Craig McMeechan (8:52).
Further down the field 63-year-old Paul Elliott set an incredible age group record of 10:14.
Ringmaster Vallely expressed himself satisfied with his night’s work and hopes are that the breathtaking show would be back in town next year.